Coach Leaves Front Seven Changes Open

It's not at all unlike Jason Garrett to leave himself an out during a press conference. He doesn't want to commit to a player practicing or not practicing 20 minutes before the team walks out on the field, so he's certainly not going to disclose the Cowboys' plans for the 2012 season, some eight months away.

Maybe there's nothing to read into it, then, but when asked directly about the Cowboys' plans on defense, whether they would stay in a base 3-4 or use more 4-3, the coach wouldn't really say one way or the other.

"We played a lot of three-man line, and we also played some four-man line in different situations this past year," Garrett said. "We haven't gotten to the point where we talk about what we're going to play yet. We're still evaluating the tape, and we'll see where we are going forward, schematically . . . Let us go through the process and you'll see some of that stuff once we get back out on the field."

The Cowboys, like every other 3-4 team, have used four down linemen in obvious passing situations. Sparingly, they also deployed hybrid fronts with four down linemen and three or four linebackers this past season.

With DeMarcus Ware a 3-4 outside linebacker his entire career, the team may not want to make a change that could compromise their best defensive player. However, a switch wouldn't necessarily be impossible to pull off given the fluid nature of the rest of the front seven personnel at this point.

Apart from Ware, only Jay Ratliff and Sean Lee are definite keepers in that bunch. Linebacker Bruce Carter could play on the outside in a 4-3.

The most likely impediment to a major change would be Rob Ryan, who has coached a 3-4 scheme his entire career. However, some coaches like Bill Belichick (who Ryan worked under) and Bill Parcells have orchestrated defenses that ran both 3-4 and 4-3 at different times.

Garrett also wasn't making a firm declaration about a long-speculated topic, the possibility of the undersized nose tackle Ratliff moving to defensive end, should the Cowboys stay in the 3-4.

Though he's made the Pro Bowl each of the last two years, Ratliff's numbers have dropped, and he was worn down with injuries by the latter part of 2011. A move to end might be easier on Ratliff, who will be 31 when the season starts.

"He has some versatility," Garrett said. "If you watch him play, he plays nose, but he also plays over the guard sometimes as a three-technique, and certainly we move him around in the nickel fronts that we use. So, he has some versatility. We have some young defensive linemen coming up, so again, we'll evaluate the whole thing, individually, collectively, and we'll see what their roles are going forward."

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