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Position Series: Same Pieces But New Roles On Defensive Line


*With training camp right around the corner, is taking a look at each position group in a 10-part series, continuing today with the defensive line.   *

Top of the chart: DeMarcus Ware

Despite moving to the 4-3 scheme, Ware remains the top dog of the defensive line unit – a group that has its share of concerns across the board. Even Ware has some question marks considering how beat up he was to end last year, dealing with injuries to his shoulder, elbow, hamstring and neck. Ware had surgery in the offseason on his shoulder but should be 100 percent by the start of training camp on July 21. Ware said he is excited about the defensive change, which will have him rushing the passer much more and not forcing him to drop back into coverage occasionally as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Anthony Spencer had his best season of his career, which could allow teams to give extra attention to his side, which would only free up Ware even more.

Need to see more:
Jay Ratlif:

Injured for 10 games last year, Ratliff is also switching positions somewhat in this new scheme, which should allow him to be more effective. And that would be saying something, considering Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler as a nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme. But despite his injury issues last year, which included a sports hernia surgery at the end of the season, and his DWI arrest in January, Ratliff is being counted on heavily by the Cowboys, who did not draft a defensive tackle, or sign one in veteran free agency. The Cowboys have said publicly Ratliff will be a big part of this defense. And let's not forget, while he only played six games last year, he was rather productive in those games. This could be a big opportunity for him.

Still need to know … How Jason Hatcher fits in this defense

The Cowboys have a plan for Jason Hatcher. It's just hard to tell right now what that will be. Hatcher has played defensive end in the 3-4 scheme and he was an end in the 4-3 in college. Now, he's not only listed as a defensive tackle, but the Cowboys have him as the one-technique tackle, which is usually a spot assigned to the biggest, widest-body on the team. Hatcher will be a mismatch for some linemen at times, but could have problems holding his own as well. Who knows? Ratliff was able to use his quickness to offset the size difference for years and Hatcher might be able to do the same. Let's also not discount what Rod Marinelli can do with these defensive linemen. He took Henry Melton from a college running back and a raw talent on the defensive line and made him a Pro Bowler.

Don't forget about … Tyrone Crawford

And it's not likely too many people would forget about Crawford, the Cowboys' third-round pick in 2012. But as the Cowboys shift back to a 4-3 scheme, a defense Crawford played in [embedded_ad]

college, this could be a perfect switch for him. Oftentimes players come back for their second NFL season looking completely different after a full summer in the weight room. Crawford might just be the wild card in this defense.

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