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.