Switch to 3-4 Should Help Thornton

At this time last summer, Kalen Thornton was the longest of longshots to make the Dallas roster. An undrafted free agent, Thornton shed nearly 30 pounds before arriving at Valley Ranch as a linebacker prospect, after having spent the previous four years as a defensive end at the University of Texas.

He even was subject to whispers that he'd received a tryout only because his father, Bruce, also played for the team. But because of his versatility -- he is a sure tackler, runs well, rushes the passer and willingly plays on special teams -- head coach Bill Parcells said during training camp "that guy's going to make the team." Thornton backed up his coach's decision with a strong rookie campaign. His varied abilities led many to believe he will excel in the Cowboys' new 3-4 defense.

But to hear Thornton tell it, he's in the same situation as he was last summer. The fact that the Cowboys drafted (and will invest more in) a younger player with many of the same skills -- Demarcus Ware -- with their top draft choice in April doesn't bother Thornton at all.

Push hard enough, and Thornton will admit to having a slightly increased awareness of how the professional game is played, but that's about all he'll offer in the way of self-assurance.

"I guess I have a little more confidence," Thornton said. "I guess I know a little more about how it works. But we didn't have the season we wanted last year. I didn't have the season I wanted.

"I have to make the team again -- that's what I'm worried about. Really, I feel about the same as I did last year. I'll probably be that way my whole career."

Just three days into his new defense, Thornton said it's much too early to break down the differences in his roles in the 3-4, compared to what he was asked to do in the 4-3 Dallas ran last year. The learning curve, he said, doesn't really entail a great deal of new verbage. Instead, the defense will utilize much of the same terminology to mean different things.

"There are a lot of similar terms, so it will sort of relate to last year," Thornton said. "But there's a lot to learn."

Thornton plays the hybrid OLB/DE position made famous by some of the best players Parcells has coached: Lawrence Taylor and Willie McGinnest. But the arrival of Ware -- who even has drawn comparisons to Taylor by his coach -- doesn't seem to faze Thornton.

"I always appreciate a good pass rusher, and he's a great pass rusher," Thornton said. "He's got a lot of ability. I might be able to teach him some things, and he can teach me some things. We've added a lot of talent on this defense, and he's a big part of it. I don't see him as a threat. I see him as a way our defense will be better."

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