- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHOENIX -- If there's anybody who believes in new Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, it's Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin worked with Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli in Tampa Bay.
"Monte is going to be great in particular, Monte in a combination with Rod, that's a lethal combination," said Tomlin, who worked with the duo from 2001 to 2005 as a defensive backs coach. "These guys are football purists. I imagine they're somewhere in the bowels of that facility right now, man, with trash cans talking about how to defend the A, B, C gap.
"I grew up professionally with those guys. They're special people. I wish them nothing but the best. I acknowledge if you're competing against them, you got your hands full for a lot of reasons. I've been blessed to be associated with those guys."
Kiffin encountered some lean years in the college game following his son, Lane, especially last season at USC. He resigned after the season and was open to a return to the NFL.
In some ways, Monte Kiffin might be back in his comfort zone in the NFL instead of college.
"I don't think Monte is ever out of his comfort zone," Tomlin joked. "If you asked me that when he was in L.A., he's in his comfort zone; if they're snapping a ball and he's got 11 to defend it, he's in his comfort zone."
Kiffin is changing the Cowboys' defense from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3. The Cowboys believe they have the personnel to pull this off. They will move outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to defensive end and move defensive end Jason Hatcher to defensive tackle alongside Jay Ratliff.
The linebackers remain the same in Sean Lee (middle) and Bruce Carter (weak side), but the strongside linebacker spot has to be filled. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones has pegged Kyle Wilber in that spot.
Tomlin doesn't believe the switch will be a problem for Kiffin and Marinelli.
"How those guys work, I really think it's insignificant when you talk about whether or not you got four guys with their hand on the ground or three guys with their hand on the ground," Tomlin said. "One thing that they're going to do is they're going to be fundamentally sound, their going to play responsible football and they're going to play extremely hard with the 11 men that they have. I look forward to watching their tape. I think there's a lot of people in the NFL looking forward to watching their tape. Those are the type of guys, when they put tape out there, it's food for all of us. It's going to be fun."