Countdown to Camp: LB

Many subplots surround the Cowboys' linebackers entering the start of training camp. Is this a make-or-break year for Bradie James? Is Demarcus Ware the next Lawrence Taylor? What about Kevin Burnett?

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Al Singleton, OLB Demarcus Ware, ILB Dat Nguyen, ILB Bradie James. Backups -- OLB Kevin Burnett, ILB Ryan Fowler, ILB Scott Shanle, ILB Keith O'Neil, OLB Kalen Thornton, OLB Reggie Love.

The key word for the new and improved linebacking unit in Dallas is "big."

The shift to the 3-4 defense will have the biggest impact at linebacker, where a host of changes have been made to make the Cowboys' defense bigger, stronger, and faster in 2005.

For starters, the undersized Dexter Coakley was released. Veteran Al Singleton could also be in danger with the additions of Demarcus Ware and second round pick Kevin Burnett in the draft.

Ware, who Parcells has compared to Lawrence Taylor, is expected to be a disruptive pass rusher in the 3-4, hopefully becoming the first Cowboy to register double-digit sacks since 1996.

"The NFL is full of Demarcus Wares in the respect of talent," said his former defensive coordinator at Troy, Vic Koenning.

"But he has so much speed that he's a guy that will jump out. I don't know how they're going to use him, but if they use him as a pass rusher then I think he's a guy that will quickly jump out and he'll become a fan favorite because of his personality. He only knows one speed. He never takes a play off. He's constantly flying around."

Burnett, who is coming off of hip surgery but should be fully recovered, is smart, versatile and strong.

"He has good range and is a high producer," Parcells said his second round draft pick. "He can also play on the line of scrimmage in a 3-4."

Both Burnett and Ware are considered upgrades in both talent and size. The only attribute they lack is NFL experience.

Dat Nguyen remains undersized in the middle but he should be helped by the added size up front with Jason Ferguson.

But the key to this unit may rest with Bradie James, who will likely start next to Nguyen at inside linebacker. Many insiders suggest this is a make-or-break year for the former LSU star.

James has the size and athletic ability, but he has delegated to special teams duties since he arrived on the scene two years ago. Last year, James led the team in special teams tackles with 24.

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