Be-Ware: Dallas Switching to 3-4?

One of the most frequently asked questions this offseason -- by fans and media members alike -- is what the Dallas defense will look like in 2005. Speculation has been rampant that if Dallas could get a top-flight pass rusher, either at defensive end or outside linebacker, the team's primary defense might well shift from the 4-3 alignment to the 3-4. <BR>

As running backs, wide receivers and cornerbacks came off the board in the draft's first 10 picks, Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells found themselves with the choice of all of the top pass rushers available, including Troy's DeMarcus Ware, Maryland's Shawne Merriman, LSU's Marcus Spears and Georgia's David Pollack, each of whom has had his name associated with the Cowboys in pre-draft rumors.

The Cowboys ended up picking Ware, the 6-4, 251-pounder from Troy, who racked up 187 tackles and 25 sacks in three years as a starter.

In college, he played mostly defensive end, but with the Cowboys, he should assume something of a hybrid role, playing a lot of outside linebacker and also some defensive end in obvious passing situations.

Overall, he is thought to be the fastest pass rusher in this draft, adding a desperately needed element of speed to the Dallas front seven.

Of course, Parcells has been in the witness protection program since the end of the 2004 season, and the assistant coaches don't do interviews, so little has been said about the team's defensive intentions for 2005. But Ware is believed to have the skills and athleticism to allow Dallas to shift to the 3-4, filling the role basically created by/for Lawrence Taylor.

He runs like a running back and is a vicious hitter. He's strong enough to fight off offensive linemen who will outweigh him by more than 50 pounds, and his speed and ability to change direction will allow him to drop into coverage, and if the ball comes his way, he can catch, too -- he played wide receiver in high school.

Ware's speed allows him to chase from sideline to sideline, but more importantly, he also spent much of the season in the opposing backfield, with his sacks and tackles-for-loss (55 in three years).

The Dallas defense lacked speed in the front seven last year, and the team's fastest linebacker, Dexter Coakley, departed for St. Louis via free agency. For the 3-4 to succeed in Dallas, more speed and pass rushers (Spears at No. 20?) will need to arrive in Valley Ranch, but the addition of Ware makes it much more likely that the Cowboys will make the move to the 3-4. Another Dallas player who might benefit the most from the switch will be linebacker/defensive end Kalen Thornton.

Like Ware, Thornton played defensive end in college, and moved back to linebacker (most of the time) in Dallas. In his rookie year, Thornton showed no signs of the knee injuries he had at Texas (that might have kept him from getting drafted), and he proved to be a valuable pass rusher who drew repeated praise from Parcells for his pass rushing skills. Ware's speed should draw considerable attention from opposing blockers, allowing Thornton more room when rushing the passer.

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