The Dallas Cowboys offense is still a work in progress, especially the offensive line. The Dallas Cowboys defense, on the other hand, could be amongst the best defenses in the NFL this year. Bill Parcells made the transition last year to his beloved 3-4 defense and has stockpiled the players to make it work. In the preseason, the 1st team defense gave up a total of 10 points. The offense will need to score some points, but if all goes to plan, they won't have to score that many.
DL: For a 3-4 defense to work, you have to have three defensive linemen who can take on double-teams and hold their position on the line of scrimmage. This requires bigger than average players, and the Cowboys have them now. It all starts in the middle with NT Jason Ferguson, who shared time with La'Roi Glover last year, but is the full-time starter this year. Ferguson had a very good preseason where his main job is to take on the C/G blocks and plug the middle. On each side are RDE Chris Canty and LDE Marcus Spears, two second-year players who have bright futures. Canty looks to be a star in the making, at 6' 7" and 300 pounds, he has the strength and size to hold the edge of the line, but the quickness to get into the backfield. Spears, while not as quick as Canty, is a big kid who is solid against the run.
The one hole for now is the backup NT, which is being manned by newly signed (this week) J'vonne Parker, who was on Cleveland's practice squad last year. On the outside, backups Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher have both had an excellent preseason and should see time in the rotation, and when Dallas goes to the nickel with four down linemen. Hatcher is especially gifted in rushing the passer. Ratliff can also do spot duty at NT.
OLB: The 3-4 defense usually makes the OLB's the stars of the show, and that's no different with Dallas. Second-year player DeMarcus Ware is the ROLB and finished last year with 8 sacks. Blessed with outstanding athletic ability and cat-quick speed, this should be his breakout year. Dallas is expecting him to become a huge force on defense. Think of him as playing the Lawrence Taylor role in Parcells defense. The LOLB is Greg Ellis, a nine year veteran who was a DE in the 4-3 defense his whole career, and just made the switch to a stand up LB. Many Cowboys fans thought he could never make the switch (including me) but so far in the preseason he's shown flashes of being ready for the regular season. One area of concern is his ability to cover tight ends and running backs, something I'm sure the Jags will test. What he does bring to the table is stout run support and the ability to rush the passer, making a solid bookend to Ware.
Backing up Ware is Kevin Burnett, a talented and athletic LB who can't stay injury free, although he is healthy to start the season. On the other side Al Singleton is a veteran who isn't flashy, but gets the job done. He was the Cowboys starter at the position last year.
ILB: Bradie James plays the strong-side on the inside, and is the leader of the defense. After struggling for a few years after Dallas drafted him, he made his breakthrough last year and had an outstanding season. He's big and a sure tackler, who makes good reads. Next to him is a name you guys will recognize, free-agent signee Akin Ayodele. You guys already know about him but we did move him to inside from the outside he played in the 4-3. Ryan Fowler and 1st-round draft pick Bobby Carpenter are the backups in the middle.
CB: The CB position is a strength of the Dallas defense, with Terence Newman and Anthony Henry. Newman is extremely gifted, he's blazing fast and is the hardest worker on the team. Last year he didn't give up one TD for the entire year. The fact that he didn't make the Pro Bowl was a joke. He's easily one of the elite corners in the league. Anthony Henry is a big corner who has pretty good coverage skills and is a good tackler. Teams tend to throw to his side since they don't want to test Newman. In the nickel, long-time veteran and Parcells' favorite Aaron Glenn comes on to play the outside while Newman usually slides into the slot. Glenn played solid ball for the Cowboys last year, but he's very short, so it will be interesting to see him against the Jags tall receivers.
S: At SS is perennial Pro Bowler Roy Williams, one of the biggest hitters in the league. Roy is at his best when he's near the line of scrimmage and is a good pass rusher from the blitz. His one drawback is he's not the best coverage guy in the world. The Jags will probably try to get him isolated in coverage. The FS starter still hasn't been announced. The incumbent is Keith Davis, who started last year, but he plays much like Roy Williams at SS. He's a big hitter but can get lost in coverage. Most likely, Dallas will start rookie Pat Watkins, a 6' 5" player out of FSU. Watkins had a tremendous camp and started the last 3 preseason games, but is still a rookie so if he plays, the Jags may go right at him. But Watkins has great range and is an incredible leaper, so he can help with the Jags tall receiving corps.
Special Teams: Yes, we signed Mike Vanderjagt to kick FG's. Yes, he's sucked so far in the preseason. No, I don't have any idea how well he'll play on Sunday. He also can't handle the kickoff duties so we had to use a roster spot on K Shaun Suisham, who's done a decent job so far on kickoffs. The punter is Mat McBriar, who has a very good leg, but isn't always consistent. The kick returning threat is Tyson Thompson, our 3rd string RB, who is extremely fast. The punt returner will probably be backup WR Jamaica Rector and this will be his first time doing it for Dallas, so you know about as much as I do on how hell perform. He didn't handle the job in preseason as Dallas was trying to make rookie Skyler Green the punt returner, but that didn't work out and he's now on the practice squad.