Spears-fishing: Tuna Reels in DE

Cowboys further bolster their front seven.

Mission accomplished. Pre-draft rumors indicated that they wanted a pass-rushing linebacker with great speed and a big defensive end who can rush the passer and hold up well against the run.

With their second selection in the first round, Dallas selected monstrous defensive end Marcus Spears (6-4, 307) of LSU, further fueling reports that the Cowboys will switch to the 3-4 defense. Spears, who burst into the national spotlight in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, scoring what proved to be the game-winning points in LSU's 21-14 win over Oklahoma when he returned an interception 20 yards for a score, helping LSU to a split (with USC) of the national championship for the 2003 season.

Spears is exactly what the Cowboys want and need. He is a prototype defensive end for the 3-4, and has the bulk to slide inside and rush the passer from an interior (defensive tackle) position in obvious passing situations.

But make no mistake, despite his 300-plus pounds, he is not a misplaced defensive tackle. Spears moves better than his 5.01 time in the 40, and he has extremely long arms. Coming off the corner, he evokes images of a thicker, stronger (and, of course, shorter) "Too Tall" Jones. With his bulk, he can drive offensive tackles straight backward, and can greatly assist the coverage behind him by getting his arms up, either knocking down passes or making the quarterback re-think or alter the pass.

The addition of Spears to the Dallas -- regardless of defensive alignment -- brings an end to the use of smaller defensive ends like Shante Carver, Kavika Pittman and Ebenezer Ekuban. Opposing teams no longer can direct all of their blocking assistance (with a tight end or running back) to doubling up on Greg Ellis, the team's best linemen. Spears and top choice DeMarcus Ware create an entirely new look for the Dallas front seven, and their size and speed will create more opportunities for DT La'Roi Glover and the rest of the Dallas linebackers.

Among current players, Spears might most closely resemble (in frame and in ability) Denver's Trevor Pryce, the Broncos' 6-5, 295-pound Pro Bowler who slides inside to play defensive tackle in some scenarios.

Like Pryce, Spears has more strength than his long frame might suggest. Like any rookie, he will benefit from getting stronger through the Cowboys' conditioning program. He needs to make sure not to get too much heavier, or he might be pushed inside on a full-time basis.

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