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Cowboys Set At End, But Need Depth At Tackle

Expectations have been certainly high for 2005 first-round pick Marcus Spears, and they have been equally high for Chris Canty, maybe only a fourth-round pick that same year, but suffering a pair of injuries in the year leading up to the draft considerably lowered his draft status. It's safe to say neither player has met expectations, evident by their sack stats. Heading into their third season, Canty and Spears have a combined six career sacks. Canty has 3½ sacks in the past two years, while Spears has just 2½. Both players recorded just one each last year.

Add up all of the career games played by the Cowboys defensive tackles and you get a whopping 136 - all but three belonging to Ferguson. That's right, heading into camp, the three backup tackles, Ayodele, Stanley and Dagunduro, have a combined three games played in the NFL, and Stanley owns those three.

If there's a fumble on the ground, look for Jay Ratliff to snag it. Despite playing in a reserve role, Ratliff has a nose for the football. He led the Cowboys with three fumble recoveries last season. Ratliff, along with Chris Canty and Jason Hatcher, also tied for the team lead with seven quarterback pressures.

Don't Be Surprised If: Marcus Spears is the player who benefits most from Phillips' version of the 3-4 defense. Playing about 10 pounds lighter than last year's near 300, Spears could develop into the athletic defensive terror he was at LSU, and finally become the player the Cowboys have been waiting for the last two years. This scheme allows the ends to attack more, instead of routinely battling head up with an offensive lineman. Staying healthy in training camp for once certainly would help Spears' cause. He has suffered knee injuries during the first week of training camp in each of the last two years.

Fitting In Projected Starters:
Marcus Spears (DE) - Time to shine; Cowboys ready to see something big. But no one knows that more than Spears.
Chris Canty (DE) - Ditto here. We'll see if a new scheme can help these two ends make more plays.
Jason Ferguson (DT) - Could be the one player the Cowboys just can't lose to injury. No depth to speak of behind him.
Solid Backups:
Jason Hatcher (DE) - Showed some promise as a rookie, and could be moved around to different spots this year.
Jay Ratliff (DE) -Might not be a starter, but he's close. Just seems to make plays when he's in the game.
Uphill Climb:
Stephen Bowen (DE) - On the verge of becoming a reliable backup. Can help his cause if he can play some tackle, too.
Remi Ayodele (DT) - Akin's younger brother should be ready to compete after long NFL Europa season.
Montavious Stanley (DT) - Never made a difference in camp last year, and can't afford to let that happen again.
Ola Dagunduro (DT) - Might have the best shot of making the team among this year's rookie free agents.
Marcus Smith (DE) - Might have the hardest time making the team among this year's rookie free agents.

Up Next:
Nickel Defense

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