By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
So why use the 3-4 at all? Well, aside from it being Parcells' baby, it's an aggressive defense, and it pressures the quarterback. Plus, the Cowboys sorta drafted their picks this off-season with the 3-4 in mind. And they spent money on free agents that would best serve the 3-4. And they harped on it throughout mini-camps and the first two weeks of training camp to the exclusion of other defenses--because it's not like the 3-4's easy to learn. Just ask DeMarcus Ware.
Ware says he feels "confused." He's the Cowboys' No. 1 draft pick, a defensive end out of Troy State with a smile as expansive--and maybe one day as profitable--as anyone's in Hollywood. Parcells put Ware at outside linebacker hoping he'd play the position the way ex-Giant Lawrence Taylor did. Fast and hard. He did that against Seattle. He forced two fumbles, recovered one of them, sacked Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and intercepted one of his passes. All in the first half.
"He's L.T. reincarnated," says Jim Burt, who played beside Taylor in New York and accepted Parcells' offer this month to help the Cowboys linemen learn the 3-4. "He might be even a little bit faster." Still, his play so far is inconsistent. At times, Ware looks "lost," Parcells says. But that's because he's learning a new position (linebacker) in a new league (the NFL) in a different set (the 3-4). Plus, Parcells says the outside linebacker position in the 3-4 is the "most mentally taxing" of any on the field. Ware's adapting, though. He says he understands "90 percent" of the new defense. Of course, he said that before Parcells announced he'd also use the 4-3 this year. Who knows how confused the kid is now.
Blame La'Roi Glover and Jason Ferguson for that. No, better yet, blame Parcells. Glover is a defensive tackle and a five-time Pro Bowler. Ferguson is a former Jet and a Parcells Guy acquired in the off-season to fill the nose tackle void in the 3-4 defense--the same position Glover was to learn. This left Glover without a job coming into camp. The argument could be made that Parcells was hasty in signing Ferguson, never letting Glover prove his worth at nose tackle. This is no knock on Ferguson; the man, after all, had 75 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2003, but by signing him, Parcells has created an oh-shit phenomenon on the defensive line. Glover's played his way back into a starring role, so how do you use two guys for one spot? If a game's on the line, which guy do you turn to? And if you switch to the 4-3 to utilize both their skills, do you use that defense if the same game's on the line? And if you do that, will some of your best pass rushers watch from the sidelines? And just how confused will all these guys be anyway switching from 3-4 to 4-3?
How much Glover plays and how much Ferguson plays will be determined by how well the outside linebackers play. In particular, how well they rush the quarterback. Right now, excluding Ware's performance against the Seahawks, nobody's getting it done. Seattle's Hasselbeck completed 12 of 15 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in a quarter and a half of play. Against Arizona, a decrepit-looking Kurt Warner could have sung the score to the H.M.S. Pinafore dropping back to pass. He torched the Cowboys for 151 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-19 passing. If the Cowboys outside linebackers, the integral rushers in the 3-4, fail to reach quarterbacks as often as they did Warner and Hasselbeck, Parcells may not rely on the defense that much.
The problem with the outside linebackers is their youth. "We're just not very experienced there," Parcells says. Aside from DeMarcus Ware, two other rookies have practiced at outside linebacker: second-round draft pick Kevin Burnett and Reggie Love, who played basketball at Duke. A third rookie, Marcus Spears, is expected to play once he recovers from injuries. Burnett should see a lot of field time this year and so should another rookie, Chris Canty, a 6-7 defensive end who'll probably back up Greg Ellis.
So the Cowboys could have four, maybe even five rookies on the field at the same time. Has Parcells ever had that many? "Yeah," he says.
How scary was it? "It's scary," he says, pausing for a moment, and it's in that moment that he casts his mind back, back to the glory years. If the Cowboys will only play as those teams did, everyone will see Parcells was right all along. "In one particular case," he says, "it was scary for the other team.
"Because 56 [Lawrence Taylor] was one of those rookies."