- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Dallas Cowboys' new 4-3 defensive alignment, with Monte Kiffin as coordinator and Rod Marinelli as line coach, will require the four man on the defensive line to be responsible for the pass rush. This may sound obvious to some, but Marinelli is making enough of a point of it that he changed the label on the meeting room door at Valley Ranch from "Defensive Line" to "Rushmen." Per Todd Archer:
“It’s what we have to do, OK,” said Marinelli, the Cowboys defensive line coach. “It’s something in the four-man front that what you try to identify a position or men the No. 1 thing they’ve got to be able to do, and that it’s very clear.”
In the 3-4 scheme the Cowboys ran from 2005-12, the defensive line was not hugely responsible for the pass rush, though Jay Ratliff had 7 1/2 and six sacks in 2008-09 from his nose tackle spot. In the 4-3 scheme the Cowboys will run this year, the pressure on the quarterback has to come from the defensive line.
Now is the time of year to work on changing mentalities or instituting new ones. And while defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were already pass-rushers when they were standup outside linebackers in the 3-4, Marinelli's point is that he wants the whole group to be thinking about getting to the quarterback.
It looks as though the linebackers in this scheme -- Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Justin Durant, most likely -- will be able to freelance a bit. This should play to Lee and Carter's strengths, as they've both shown themselves to be speedy, instinctive playmakers with the ability to seek out and make plays on the ball. A reliable rush from the front four would help that and would also help the secondary, where there are question marks at safety.
Will teams play the Cowboys differently with Ware and Spencer lining up on the line every play? Will that loosen things up in the middle to allow Ratliff and Jason Hatcher more room to get to the quarterback? Will Sean Lissemore or Tyrone Crawford be a factor as a pass-rusher this year? Lots of questions about the pass rush, but one thing that seems certain is that the coaches want it to be a focus of the program, starting this early.