IRVING, Texas – A switch to the 4-3 scheme should satiate a hungry defensive line group.
At least that's what assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett believes, after the Cowboys made the change back to the scheme he was more familiar with during his 11-year career. He said the defensive linemen welcomed the switch and their new assignments should be more fun than their previous responsibilities.
"You've got some guys that just love to play the 3-4 head up, but the 4-3 is more of a penetrating, we get to eat first upfront type deal," Lett said. "That's what we're calling it. We're at the front of the food chain."
Lett is well-versed in the 4-3 scheme, despite spending the last two seasons teaching 3-4 techniques to his linemen. He amassed 22.5 sacks in his career, playing primarily the defensive tackle position for the Cowboys.
He said the Cowboys' personnel is well-equipped for the switch and features multiple players who could line up at any spot along the line, including Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass and Sean Lissemore.
"We've got some more younger guys that played the 4-3," Lett said. "They may be more used to it. We kind of had to push them and work them hard into getting used to that two-gap. So we've got to get them back. We've got to get them a little slimmer. They put on some of that two-gap weight, so we've got to get them back down to a little sleeker 4-3 style."
Lett believes the Cowboys' group might actually be bigger and taller in some areas than the typical 4-3 linemen, but the team has the athletes to make the switch, which will allow the defensive linemen to play a
more fast-paced style. While the 3-4 forced the linemen to read and react, Lett said the 4-3 allows them to rush the quarterback and react to the run on the way there.
Along with the change in technique from the old two-gap 3-4 system, is a notable change in personnel, as outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer move onto the line. Spencer, however, is an unrestricted free agent and will likely test the open market on March 12.
"Looking at those guys over the years, we've always said they just look like 4-3 defensive ends that adjusted and adapted to play outside linebacker," Lett said. "I think they'll adjust real easy to it.
"We've got guys all the way [embedded_ad] across the board that have the instincts for that defense…All our guys can adapt and play this 4-3 scheme. They're fast ,they're quick, they're big, they're athletic and that's what you need for this."
Lett will need to make an adjustment himself after working with former defensive line coach Brian Baker since arriving on the coaching staff. He'll now be working alongside veteran defensive guru Rod Marinelli, whose well-respected enough around the NFL community that most of Lett's former coaches and coaching mentors called him to tell him how much they admired Marinelli as one of the most knowledgeable coaches around.
The Cowboys players hold the same respect and reverence for Marinelli and his system.
"The first day that we hired Coach Marinelli, we said, 'Hey, we're going to a 4-3 style of defense,'" Lett said, "all the guys got excited. That's what they want to do. They feel like they can play this style of defense."