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Mailbag: Who Will Return Punts? 4-3 Or 3-4?


With so much focus on the defense and rightfully so, I haven't heard much about special teams — specifically kickoff returns and punt returns. I know the coaches don't want to risk injury to an important part of the offense like CeeDee Lamb. Who do you guys see taking over return duties in the upcoming season? — BRANDON FOSTER / SPOTSYLVANIA, VA

Rob: I agree that CeeDee is a critical part of the offense, and watching him in just two OTAs, you already get the feeling he's going to be a better receiver than last year. But the Cowboys didn't have a problem putting him on punt returns in 2020 and I'm not sure why that would change given how effective he was.

Jonny: I'm of the opinion that they won't be able to resist putting CeeDee at punt returns. He's too explosive, and while I think he's going to have a great year offensively, there are so many offensive weapons. There will be games where Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper will most of the catches or the run game is carrying the load. Maximizing CeeDee's playmaking seems hard to pass up. Tony Pollard should be able to handle kickoff returns.

I am confused. I was initially excited when I heard we were bringing in Dan Quinn to run the defense. He has always run a 4-3. But I read today we are running both alignments. Are we keeping the 3-4? — ADRIANO / SAN DIEGO, CA

Rob: Let's be honest: pretty much every defense in the league has a bunch of different looks pre-snap. It's imperative to try to change things up against quarterbacks the way the game is geared toward passing now. Quinn has coached in both systems, and he said during the draft to expect a mixture of both: "As far as in the base packages go, it will look more like a 3-4 look, and that would have been consistent whether it was the team last year or my times with Atlanta as well. But more often than not with most teams, the nickel packages, which teams play I'd say close to 60% or 70% of the time, are more out of a four-down (look)."

Jonny: I think it will be mostly 4-3, but McCarthy has always been a guy who has called both those labels semantics. It's "just the difference of a hand on the ground" as they say. It just depends on how the personnel is shaking out in training camp. They have a young defensive line at this point and they have a lot of linebackers they'd like to see on the field.

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