Dallas Cowboys: Cameron Wake

Cowboys think they're built for a 4-3

February, 28, 2013
This scouting combine story from Todd Archer tells us that the Dallas Cowboys were planning a switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense even before the 2012 season ended. According to coach Jason Garrett, they believe they have the right kind of personnel to make the switch:
"You just go through all those scenarios and at the end of it we felt good about, 'Hey, we can do this and it won't take us three years to do this,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "And we certainly want to continue to add pieces to it and make that defense better, but we felt good about the flexibility and versatility of the guys we already have."

Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli agreed with Garrett's analysis after they joined the staff. They used players such as Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher as frames of reference for DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.

Well, yeah. I mean, if all of those guys at the end of that sentence play like all of the guys at the beginning of that sentence, then yeah, the Cowboys will really have something. But there are some "ifs," and most of them are tied to health. For instance, I think Lee can be a brilliant playmaking middle linebacker in a 4-3. But he has to stay on the field, and he's had trouble doing that. And then there's this later in the story from former Cowboys exec Jeff Ireland, comparing Ware to Cameron Wake, who moved from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 end last year for Ireland's Dolphins:
"We felt like when Wake was in a three-point stance he probably was a better rusher than he was in a two-point stance," Ireland said. "I don't know that about DeMarcus. I'd have to study that, but I'm sure he's equally efficient in a three-point or two-point stance, so I don't think it will be that tough."

Ware is a very interesting part of all of this. Again, I don't think it's a question of his ability to perform effectively in a 4-3 but rather his ability to hold up physically while playing closer to the ball and mixing it up more directly with bigger offensive line bodies. Ware has shown some signs the past couple of years that his body could be beginning to break down, and if that is a trend and not an aberration, then a move like this isn't going to help with it.

This transition to the 4-3 is one of the very interesting stories of the Cowboys' offseason, so we'll continue to examine it as it goes along. I think they have the right kinds of players to pull it off, but a lot depends on who goes, who stays and who shows up to play it once the salary cap is straight and free agency and the draft have settled.

Grudge Match: Dolphins-Cowboys keys

November, 24, 2011

*Cowboys CBs Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick vs. Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall: After what Redskins receiver Jabar Gaffney did last week against the Cowboys secondary, there has to be some concern about this week’s matchup with one of the most physical receivers these corners have faced since the Lions’ Calvin Johnson.

There is no simple way to put this other than Newman and Scandrick had better be ready for a receiver that uses his hands and body to buy space when he is running routes. Marshall will try to beat up on corners.

Scout's Eye
He really is an outstanding route runner. He is so smooth at doing it that he will run full speed up the field, eating the cushion of the corner, then hitting the brakes and working outside to get the corner off-balance.

One of Marshall’s better routes is the slant. When the Dolphins need a first down, they will go in that direction.

Marshall can also be a problem in the red zone. Marshall is outstanding adjusting to the ball, whether it’s back-shoulder throws or fades. Against the Bills last week, he made an outstanding catch along the end line, adjusting to a pass from Matt Moore with a defender on his back.

In studying the Dolphins games, you can see the confidence that Moore has in Marshall. He is not afraid to throw him the ball no matter how covered he is.

The Cowboys secondary cannot afford to have another off day like it did last week with holding calls and soft coverage. It’s going to be a 60-minute game with Brandon Marshall.

*Cowboys ILB Sean Lee vs. Dolphins RB Reggie Bush: Despite playing with one hand, Lee has been outstanding playing with a dislocated left wrist. You would never know that he is handicapped in any way playing with that club on his left hand.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has done a nice job of using Bush in several different ways in his attack. In New Orleans, Sean Payton didn’t use Bush as an every-down back, instead creating certain packages for him in the offense. Daboll uses him as a regular back, running him between the tackles.

Bush has really helped the Dolphins' offense when Miami uses him in play-action. He is such an explosive player that defenses are forced to step up to try to make an early tackle before he gets going, then routes develop behind them.

Bush is also effective as a route runner. Bush does a job running the choice or option routes. Bush has outstanding hands, and once he gets the ball in his hands, he can be a problem in the open field.

Lee doesn’t have the speed or the quickness of Bush, but he does have the smarts to read routes and be in position to help defend. The Cowboys have to be careful when Bush has the ball in space. He is a powerful enough runner that can run through tackles. In the open field, he needs to be brought down quickly before he can do any real damage.

*Cowboys RT Tyron Smith vs. Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake: This is going to be a serious battle Thursday afternoon.

I have to be honest that I didn’t know much about Wake as a pass rusher, but I do now. Wake keeps coming at you. He plays with a high motor and nice intensity.

He is one of those players that tends to give Smith trouble because he plays with power and quickness. Smith can handle the athletic rusher all day, but he tends to struggle if he has to try to anchor down and stop a charge.

Wake is dangerous because of how quickly he is able to get up the field and get around the corner, but he does it with power. Wake is a good technique rusher and will use an arm-under move to free himself from the blocker.

In recent games, Smith has done a much better job of handling defenders that spin on him inside, like what Jason Babin did to him in the Eagles game. I don’t believe that Smith will have troubles in the running game against Wake, but when the ball has to go in the air, Wake is a different animal. Smith will also get a shot at future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor as well, which is another good matchup.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Dolphins preview

November, 23, 2011

Scout's Eye
In the NFL, short weeks of game preparation are never easy. It’s even more difficult having to play a physical divisional game on the road before an opponent that you see once every four years.

There will be nothing easy about this game against the Dolphins. It’s a team that has quality players on both sides of the ball. We should not be fooled by the Dolphins’ 3-7 record, because in the games I have studied, this could have very well been a team on a five-game winning streak going into this game.

The Dolphins will give the Cowboys trouble in this game in two areas offensively, wide receiver and running back.

Be wary of Dolphins' Marshall, Bess, Bush, Clay

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall can be a physical beast when it comes to having to defend him up the field. He is not afraid of using his body to create separation with the defensive backs. Have seen Marshall get into his route, then take both of his hands and push the defensive back away. Marshall will use his body on the slant to protect the ball.

Matt Moore likes to try and get him the ball on the move whether that’s up the field or on the quick screen. Hard man to bring down when on the move with the ball in his hands. Primary target in the red zone on jump balls or back-shoulder throws. Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick will have to be ready for an all-day physical game with Marshall on the outside.

Davone Bess will play the slot with quickness and the ability to adjust to the ball wherever it is thrown. Bess will need to be watched on third downs because he has a real feel for how to work inside routes and take advantage of coverage that might not be tight.

Running back Reggie Bush has proven that he can handle the workload as an every-down back. Bush makes this play-action game go for the Dolphins. Like the way that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has taken advantage of his skill set with screens and plays on the edge in the passing game.

Bush can run the ball between the tackles, but he is most dangerous when he gets in space. The Cowboys defense has to be careful to not allow Bush to make to loose plays in space. Tackling on Bush will be key this week.

There is one other weapon I want to bring your attention to: fullback Charles Clay. We all understand now how important Tony Fiammetta is to the Cowboys running the ball. Clay is the same type of player, but he can really hurt you with his ability to get down the field and catch the ball. Clay is a converted tight end that is very athletic. He is a lot like Bess in that you don’t cover him, he will make a big play down the field.

Cowboys should target riight side of Dolphins O-line

On the offensive line, the Dolphins have some nice pieces in left tackle Jake Long and center Mike Pouncey. The weakness of this line is on the right side with tackle Marc Colombo and guard Vernon Carey. I fully expect Rob Ryan to try and put as much pressure on these two with anything scheme-wise that makes them have to move and adjust. Neither Colombo or Carey move that well, and the more you make them have to do that, the better the chance for successful pressure.

Don't sleep on Dolphins' defensive front, linebackers

I really came away impressed with what the Dolphins’ defense is doing scheme-wise and how physical the overall unit plays.

It really starts up front with guys like ends Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. These are powerful players and they are always working their way up the field, not only defeating single blocks. but handling double teams as well. Nose man Paul Soliai is difficult to move, much like what the Cowboys faced with the Jets and 49ers.

But the real strength of this defense is in its linebackers. Koa Misi, Carlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake are all outstanding. Misi and Wake are true pressure players. Misi is better against the run, but Wake will be a handful because of his ability to explode off the edge. Misi can get the edge too, but he will fight you more on the rush. Wake will slap, rip all while working his way up the field.

Wake will make Doug Free and Tyron Smith have to adjust on the move and reset their hands several times. They will need to find a way to anchor down on him.

On the inside, Dansby and Burnett will make plays in the running game. Last week against the Redskins, the Cowboys didn’t do a good enough job of handling the linebackers on the second level. If the line has the same kind of problems this week, running the ball will be difficult again.

The Dolphins linebackers run to the ball and they are sure tacklers. If the Cowboys struggle running the ball it will be because these linebackers are going unblocked.

In the games that I was able to study, the Dolphins’ front seven make their secondary better. Pressure has really helped this group make plays like they did last week against the Bills.

Safety Yeremiah Bell is a hitter. Cornerback Will Allen throws his body around. Cornerback Sean Smith is a much better cover man than tackler, and corner Nolan Carroll will force the run. There will be plays to be made against this secondary if -- and only if -- the Cowboys protection can hold up again Wake, Misi and the veteran Jason Taylor.

It’s a defense that has found its way since the loss to the Giants and coming off a short week will be a difficult test for the Cowboys.

Sean Lee part of new/old Linebacker U.

October, 26, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- If you want to read about Sean Lee’s play this season, you can go here for today’s column.

Lee’s play has been nothing short of incredible this season and the Penn State alum is helping to bring back the school’s Linebacker U. moniker.

Along with Lee, Jacksonville’s Paul Posluszny, Carolina’s Dan Connor, Miami’s Cameron Wake, Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman are carrying on the tradition.

“I remember going to the combine and coaches saying, ‘Linebacker U? I haven’t seen an NFL linebacker from there in a long time,’” Lee said. “I’d name some guys, Brandon Short, LaVar Arrington. It’s one thing we take a lot of pride in at Penn State and make that tradition.”

The first Linebacker U. alum Lee mentioned was Dennis Onkotz, but he is more of a Jack Ham guy with his Pittsburgh ties.

“I didn’t get to talk to him as much, but that guy was on two undefeated teams, a Hall of Famer, a great linebacker,” Lee said. “That’s a guy you look up to. Shane Conlan’s a guy who’s around we look up to. He won a national title. I had Dan Connor and Paul Posluszny ahead of me, great, tough guys who were role models.”