Skip to main content

Successfully Switching To 3-4 No Easy Task

handling the double teams of tackles and tight ends in the running game. Parcells seems to think he can adequately handle the new position in the new scheme. 

As for Nguyen, unlike Glover or Ellis, he shouldn't have much problem fitting into the new scheme. While he's been the middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme since arriving in Dallas in 1999, Nguyen has plenty of experience in the 3-4 from his collegiate days at Texas A&M . 

Parcells must think so, too. Remember, the Cowboys had no interest in trading last year's leading tackler this off-season to the Saints, who inquired about him in April during those Darren Howard trade talks that eventually dissipated. 

Part of the reason, though, for passing on Howard was what the Cowboys had in mind for the 2005 draft. They intended to, and did basically select two defensive ends in the first round, Demarcus Ware from Troy University and Marcus Spears of LSU - both hand-picked by Parcells to fit in his new 3-4 scheme. 

"I think I'll be comfortable in either one," Spears said during the last mini-camp. "We're doing a lot of 3-4 right now and we played that in college. You have to adjust a little bit, but not a whole lot. Right now, I'm just ready to play wherever they need me. If it's 4-3, that's fine. But if it's 3-4, I can do that. I really don't have a problem with either one."  

And the Cowboys never figured Spears would have a problem. Not only is he versatile enough to play both schemes, his personality, at least from what's been seen so far, doesn't seem to be that of a complainer.  

Now the adjustment to the 3-4 will be a little tougher for Ware, who played the right defensive end spot in a 4-3 at Troy. Ware rarely played standing up, and did not have to worry about covering tight ends and backs on passing routes. His main objective was rushing the quarterback. 

But playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 requires him to do more than just that, and Parcells evaluated Ware as versatile enough to handle all those responsibilities. In fact, he doesn't like the idea of the 251-pound Ware simply lining up at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme over 300-pound tackles 60 times a game.  

How quickly Ware can adjust to playing linebacker on the right side of a 3-4 defense will go a long way in determining just how successful the Cowboys will be at making this transition. But make no mistake, Ware will play. Even though he was working behind Kalen Thornton at the mini-camps, teams don't draft a guy with the 11th overall pick and hand him contract to sit - especially behind a rookie free agent from the previous season who rarely played. 

As big a chore as helping Ware make this transition might be filling out the other two linebacker spots in the 3-4, assuming Nguyen is penciled in at one of the middle spots and Ware on the right side. That leaves the other middle spot and the left side to fill. 

Veteran Al Singleton likely is the early favorite to start at left outside linebacker. But he should get significant competition from second-round draft choice Kevin Burnett and veteran defensive end Eric Ogbogu, who is being moved to linebacker. 

The other middle spot next to Nguyen is really up for grabs with no battle-tested veteran available. This could turn into a four-man competition between Scott Shanle, Bradie James, Ryan Fowler and Keith O'Neil. Shanle was taking the first set of snaps during the mini-camp, followed by James. 

And all this doesn't even account for creating some depth on the defensive line, where the Cowboys must find out if fourth-round pick Chris Canty is physically ready to play, and just how Kenyon Coleman and Leo Carson will fit in. 

See, there indeed is a lot of work involved in making this defensive switch. If it were as simple as pulling a lineman off the field and adding a linebacker, teams would transition between the two defenses every other down. 

So while figuring out who will be the starting free safety or right tackle, or even the backup quarterback, are all nice camp stories, none are more significant than how this defense adjusts to the 3-4 defense.  

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.