Cowboys' Ellis unhappy over role in 3-4 defense

Updated: July 30, 2006, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

OXNARD, Calif. -- Before the Dallas Cowboys opened training camp, a veteran player already was squawking about his new role, especially since he didn't get his long-term contract reworked to help make him feel better about it.

Defensive End
Dallas Cowboys

Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
35 26 9 2 8 0

Terrell Owens? Hardly.

The angry man is Greg Ellis, who until recently had always built on the good-guy reputation that was a big reason why the Cowboys drafted him instead of Randy Moss back in 1998.

The notion that Ellis would cause more headaches than Owens -- or, at least, before Owens -- is shocking. To Ellis, so is the change coach Bill Parcells is demanding.

After playing his entire career at defensive end, Ellis is being put into a hybrid role that essentially makes him a linebacker -- and keeps him on the sideline far more often than he's accustomed.

The problem is that at 270 pounds, Ellis isn't big enough to play end in Parcells' 3-4 scheme. Replacement Chris Canty weighs 300 pound and left-side starter Marcus Spears is 298. Backups Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman are both 295.

But Ellis remains one of the team's best quarterback chasers, having led the team in sacks all but once the last seven seasons. That's why Parcells still has a spot for him as a pass-rushing linebacker, a position he's carved out for players in New York and New England, most notably Willie McGinest on the Patriots.

"There are players, these in-between DE and LB types is the best way to describe it, they can have a good role in the 3-4 defense," Parcells said.

Ellis was wary of how he'd fit in the 3-4 last year, but started the first 13 games. Then Canty took over. Now this.

Sure, there's a chance things will work out. There's also a chance the experiment fails and Dallas winds up cutting him, likely after this season. Plenty of teams would want to sign him, but for less money, probably far less since, coming off a poor season, he'd have little leverage.

So Ellis' solution was asking for more upfront money, sort of as a good-faith gesture. The team declined and the grumbling began. It peaked Thursday when he got off the flight to training camp and told reporters, "I still don't want to be here."

Parcells didn't care that Ellis wanted to be released or traded.

"We don't have any plans to do anything with him," Parcells said Friday at his camp-opening news conference. "He's going to have to play here or he could retire if he wanted to. Those are his two choices right now."

Ellis has clammed up since then. After practice on Saturday, he said he'd talk on Sunday. Then he left the field Sunday hiding between a pack of teammates; he relayed through a team official that he wanted to wait a few more days.

What matters more is what Ellis is telling Parcells and other coaches. And, so far, all seems well. He and Parcells even smiled during a one-on-one chat during a water break Saturday.

"I have a pretty good relationship with Greg," Parcells said Sunday when asked about their conversation. "I think both of us separate the business side of this game from the playing side of this game. Actually, we were just talking about some technical things and not anything else."

The technical part matters a lot now. How Ellis adjusts to all the nuances of his new job will determine how much he plays. After all, he can't strictly be used as a pass rusher.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Parcells acknowledged. "We're going to let him do some of the drills. It's not like I'm dealing with a rookie and he doesn't know how to play the other position. I'm just trying to see how he looks doing some of these other things and we'll see how he does with it."

Asked whether Ellis will have a meaningful role, Parcells said, "Oh yes."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press