Starters - LE Marcus Spears, NG Jason Ferguson, RE Chris Canty. Backups - NG La'Roi Glover, NG Thomas Johnson, E Greg Ellis, E Marcus Spears, E Eric Ogbogu, E Jay Ratliff.
The transition to the 3-4 defense was smooth with Ferguson keying things in the middle. Rookies Spears and Canty likely will anchor the ends for years to come. Their development was one of the pleasant surprises. The Cowboys, however, will be in the market for quality depth, as it's unlikely that Glover and Ellis will return after being relegated to backup duty. Their cap numbers are too high, and they likely will be released even though Ellis shared the team lead in sacks with eight. The Cowboys are high on Johnson and Ratliff - two players who could pick up the snaps from Ellis and Spears.
Starters - OLB Al Singleton, OLB DeMarcus Ware, ILB Dat Nguyen, ILB Bradie James. Backups - OLB Kevin Burnett, ILB Ryan Fowler, ILB Scott Shanle, OLB Kalen Thornton, OLB Scott Fujita.
Season-ending injuries to Nguyen and Singleton shuffled and challenged a linebacker corps that was already thin and inexperienced. James emerged as the leading tackler and the new quarterback on defense. The rookie Ware was as good as advertised, tying Greg Ellis for the team lead in sacks with eight. Outside of those two spots, nothing is guaranteed for 2006. Fowler and Fujita ended the season as the starters for Nguyen and Singleton. Nguyen likely will retire, and the Cowboys will certainly look for an upgrade over Fowler in free agency or the draft. Singleton also might be cut in the off-season because of his cap figure. Fujita is an unrestricted free agent and may not return. The Cowboys hope second-round pick Burnett could emerge in his second year. But nothing is promised until he rehabs from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in Week 15.
Starters - CB Terence Newman, CB Anthony Henry, SS Roy Williams, FS Keith Davis. Backups - S Lynn Scott, S Justin Beriault, S Willie Pile, CB Nate Jones, CB Jacques Reeves, CB Aaron Glenn.
Never mind the injuries that sidelined Henry for much of the second half of the season, the Cowboys are set at cornerback. When he was on the field, Henry lived up to his $10 million signing bonus. Considering he doesn't have a history of injuries, the Cowboys expect him to be ready to go all the way next year. Newman played his best football since joining the NFL, and Glenn was the best third corner in the league. Williams was at his Pro Bowl best again. He was the team's second-leading tackler. While Davis wasn't bad in his first year as a starter, the Cowboys will be looking for an upgrade at free safety either through free agency or the draft. Beriault, who was on injured reserve all season, could be a factor at free safety.
P Mat McBriar, K Shaun Suisham, LS L.P. LaDouceur, KR Tyson Thompson, PR Terence Newman.
McBriar and his strong leg were too inconsistent for coach Bill Parcells, but he will get another shot. Suisham was one of four kickers the Cowboys used in 2005. None were consistent or reliable. He will get another shot, but he will have plenty of competition going into training camp. Thompson broke all of the team kickoff-return records, including yards and attempts in a season. He just never broke one to the end zone. Newman was the Cowboys' best punt returner when he was used. Parcells did so sparingly because he didn't one of his top defenders to get hurt. The Cowboys need to use Newman more or find someone else to do the job in 2006.
Unit-by-Unit Analysis: Defense
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