How does personnel fit Kiffin's scheme?

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
3:12
PM ET
ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon has a breakdown of how the players on the roster fit with new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's schemes:
Rob Ryan’s 3-4 is out at Valley Ranch, about to be replaced by Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme.

How will the Cowboys’ personnel fit into Kiffin’s puzzle?

Here’s a breakdown, with the help of former Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell, whose relationship with Kiffin dates to their days as rival assistant coaches at Oklahoma and Nebraska in the 1970s:

The big question is whether the Cowboys keep Anthony Spencer as a bookend for DeMarcus Ware. That’s a financial issue, with Spencer due $10.6 million if the cap-strapped Cowboys use the franchise tag on him again and primed to get paid big bucks if he hits the market after his career year.

“I don’t know if I would,” Lacewell said of keeping Spencer. “I think I could find another guy that was a pretty good player. In my opinion, I’d rather look for a 4-3 guy. I think a rookie can come in. The mental end of it is so much easier than the 3-4 [for defensive ends/outside linebackers].”

Lacewell has no doubt that Ware will be a dominant defensive end in Kiffin’s scheme despite the fact that the perennial Pro Bowler will miss the offseason while recovering from shoulder surgery. Lacewell has little concern about increased wear and tear on Ware as a down lineman, adding the fact that Ware won’t have to drop in coverage might keep him fresher by limiting the amount he has to run.

“He should be similar but better than [Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney],” Lacewell said. “He’s much stronger and bigger.”

Lacewell, who Jerry Jones brings to training camp every year to help evaluate the defensive personnel, believes Kiffin’s scheme will greatly benefit Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher.

Ratliff would primarily be a 1-technique defensive tackle, shading the center and shooting the gap. Lacewell compares him to La’Roi Glover, who made four Pro Bowls playing that role for the Cowboys when Mike Zimmer ran a Kiffin copycat scheme in Dallas.

“It’s going to prolong his career,” Lacewell said of Ratliff, a 31-year-old whose streak of four straight Pro Bowls ended when injuries limited him to six games this season. “And I think it’s going to add misery to the offenses.”

The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Hatcher would be a 3-technique defensive tackle, playing over the outside eye of a guard. Hatcher, who has 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons as a starting defensive end, would get a lot of one-on-one matchups with guards.

“Hatcher would be an outstanding 3 because he can run,” Lacewell said. “He can really fly. He’s going to be able to use his athleticism.”

Sean Lissemore could contribute at both defensive tackle spots. Tyrone Crawford, a third-round pick out of Boise State last season, has potential to play the 3-technique tackle and would be a candidate to start at defensive end if Spencer leaves.

“Monte’s going to love Lissemore and Crawford because they’re try-hard guys who can run,” Lacewell said. “Kiffin is all about speed. They don’t have to be huge guys, but they have to be able to play hard and run.”

Here's the rest of MacMahon's story.

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