3 & Out

3 & Out: New-Look Defense Starting To Take Shape

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FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics as the Cowboys enter the second week of free agency:

  • Keanu's Role
  • D-Line Direction
  • Snap Decision

I Know…
we shouldn't make too much of Keanu Neal's position(s) in Quinn's defense.

Maybe it's linebacker. Maybe it's safety. Maybe it's a combination of duties. No matter what it will say on the depth chart, the Cowboys believe Neal can bring some physicality and run support to the defense.

Because defenses often vary their alignments, categorizing positions on defense can be tricky. Xavier Woods (still an unrestricted free agent) is an example. He generally has been regarded as a free safety the last few years. In 2019, he played only 174 snaps in the box, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year? He played one-third of his snaps (382 out of 989) in the box with the Cowboys playing so much nickel and usually deploying only two linebackers. Not exactly deep center field.

Neal has typically played closer to the line of scrimmage throughout his career. Calling him a strong safety or a linebacker might just be a matter of semantics. But he's been a big hitter and a solid run stopper in his career. It's mostly been a matter of staying healthy.

I Think…
it's interesting that all three free-agent additions to the defensive line have position flexibility.

Carlos Watkins was a defensive end in the Texans' 3-4 scheme. Brent Urban mostly fit that role with the Ravens, too. Tarell Basham was a stand-up linebacker in the Jets' 3-4.

Quinn is known best for a base 4-3 scheme, but he also has coordinated 3-4 schemes or introduced 3-4 principles at previous stops, college and pro.

The Cowboys unsuccessfully tried a more multiple system under Mike Nolan last year. Under Quinn, they're widely expected to go back to more of a traditional 4-3 with some similarities to the defense Rod Marinelli ran here for years.

But it's hard to find a defense these days that doesn't change up their pre-snap looks. It's almost become a necessity to counteract the league's influx of offensive creativity. And based on their career history, the Cowboys' new signings on defense at least offer that versatility.

Are the Cowboys done in free agency? Doesn't sound like it. They've got visits scheduled with three free agent safeties this week. At least one, maybe two, could sign. Cornerback or linebacker depth? Maybe the draft, or maybe there's some position flex within the group (see: Neal).

I Have No Idea…
if it's just a long snapper thing, but Jake McQuaide has a pretty good path-to-the-NFL story, too.

We've all heard about L.P. Ladouceur's serendipitous tryout in 2005, when the Cowboys just happened to be staying in the Bay Area for a week between games against the Raiders and 49ers, and Ladouceur just happened to be a short drive away for a look-see.

McQuaide, the first Cowboys long snapper not named Ladouceur in 16 years, can't quite top that. But he does have a unique backstory. He walked on at Ohio State in 2006 and got a full scholarship after his sophomore year, but he had a pretty good backup career lined up after college: aeronautical and astronautical engineering.

McQuaide caught on with the Rams as an undrafted rookie in 2011 and has been in the league ever since.

Maybe gas turbine engines are part of his post-football life. But for now, the two-time Pro Bowler is reuniting with special teams coordinator John Fassel and kicker Greg Zuerlein in Dallas.

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