IRVING, Texas – In meeting with the media for the first time since the end of the season, Jason Garrett spoke about the decision to move to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin.
Since Garrett arrived in Dallas back in 2007 as the offensive coordinator, the Cowboys have run the 3-4 defense as their base, with only recently playing more 4-3 packages last year under Rob Ryan, who was let go in mid-January.
However, Garrett referred back to his playing days with the Cowboys in the 1990's when they ran a 4-3 defense under various defensive coordinators such as Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, Dave Campo and Mike Zimmer.
Now, the Cowboys are turning it over to Kiffin and his "Tampa 2" scheme. While the defense can be terrorizing for opponents, Garrett said it's a easier defense to learn, basically because most colleges still run a 4-3 and the younger players are used to it.
"We think it can be a simpler defense for us, for guys to come in here and learn in this day and age, and also if you have the injuries to absorb it allows you to maybe do that a little bit better," Garrett said. "That was one of the philosophical advantages of playing this 4-3 defense. In this day and age in the NFL, with shortened offseasons, shortened training camps, injuries, all those kinds of things, it's important to try and put offensive and defensive systems in place that allow you to deal with the schedule and absorb the injuries that very well could happen."
Last year, the Cowboys sustained all kinds of injuries on defense, losing key players such as Sean Lee, Barry Church, Bruce Carter, Jay Ratiff, Kenyon Coleman and Orlando Scandrick. The Cowboys were forced to sign several players off the street such as Ernie Sims, Charlie Peprah, Eric Frampton and Brady Poppinga.
Another reason Garrett said the move to a 4-3 made sense was simply the personnel on this team seems to be a good fit.
"We feel like the guys we have on our roster right now can fit into a 4-3 style defense," Garrett said. "That was the next step in the process of [embedded_ad] evaluating our defense. But there are different skills for players who play in the 3-4 and the 4-3. But we feel like we've got the players for it."
One of the players who might not be around next year is free agent Anthony Spencer, an outside linebacker last season who would play defensive end in this scheme. Spencer will likely test the market on March 12 and could sign with another team, assuming the Cowboys do not sign him to a long-term deal before then or place the franchise tag on Spencer again. This year, it would be worth $10.63 million for one season.
But if the money can be worked out, it appears the Cowboys do want Spencer back. Garrett said Wednesday he is probably a better fit in the 4-3.
"Spencer was a 4-3 defensive end coming out of school," Garrett said of Spencer, a former Purdue standout. "We converted him to an outside SAM linebacker in our 3-4 system. We feel like he's played both but I do see him as more of a defensive end or SAM linebacker type rather than an off the ball linebacker type in a 3-4 defense."