Free Agent Update: Ravens Insider Aaron Wilson tweets in the last few minutes that the Cowboys have expressed interest in RB Le’Ron McClain. (See our Twitter box.) McClain is a big back, in the Marion Barber mold. Wilson says ”nothing is moving fast yet,” but what does this say about Tashard Choice’s rehab?
Update II: That mass exodus of former Cowboys to Miami, where Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano run the shop? The Dolphins folks have a name for them: “CowPhins.”
One of the pleasures of Cowboys camp is watching Rob Ryan install his version of the 3-4. It’s a far more motion-based version, compared to Wade Phillips’. Thus far, Ryan has stuck to the templates he established in Cleveland. Look for base 3-4s on early downs. When Ryan gets an offense into passing situations, or when he’s facing a spread offense that used three or more receivers as a base, look for Ryan to go ”psycho.”
And what’s the psycho? It’s his name for his nickel sets, which use two and sometimes one down linemen and a gaggle of linebackers, who line up all over the place.
Thus far, Ryan has worked with two nickel personnel sets, a 2-4-5 that in many ways resembles the 4-2-5 Phillips ran, and a more exotic 1-5-5 that puts as many rush OLBs on the field at once, and which keeps them in constant motion. It’s not unusual to look out and see Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler and Brandon Williams on the field at once. More, often, however, you’ll see three of the outside rushers and two inside backers. Here’s one variant of the 1-5-5 from yesterday’s workout:
On one crazy down Saturday afternoon, Ware drifted over the the weakside and parked himself in a three-point stance over the center. Ratliff stood up and dropped into the MLB spot while Bradie James and Butler cycled into the weakside backer-tandem spots.
It’s mix and match for the Cowboys front. It’s crazy fun for the front six guys, but it’s all to drive opposing quarterbacks nuts.
— Sean Lee has the role played so well by Kevin Burnett under Bill Parcells and to a lesser extent by Bobby Carpenter under Wade Phillips. He’s the coverage linebacker in this unit and never leaves the field, whether the Cowboys go 2-4-5 or 1-5-5. Now he gets his share of blitzes (everything is relative in the psycho sets) but his primary job is smothering tight ends and backs.
— Don’t look for double digit sacks from Anthony Spencer. He’s not being used in a way conducive to a 10-12 sack breakout. He’s still playing on the strongside, over tight ends, in the base schemes. That means fewer rushes for them than Demarcus Ware. He’s playing to his strengths, holding the point of attack and coverage.
What’s more, when Ryan rolls out the one-lineman psycho package, Spencer is often lining up as the strong side defensive end. He’s putting his hand down and run-stropping or rushing from the spot Marcus Spears played for Wade Phillips. Do you see Anthony Spencer abusing right tackles for lots of sacks? He’s a very flexible player and he’s very important to the nickel schemes, but nobody should rip him to shreds because he’s not Demarcus Ware’s clone. They play very different roles in this scheme.
— If there’s one guy who could have a breakout season pressure wise, I’d give my vote to Victor Butler. He’s still the backup strongside backer to Spencer and takes on tight ends in that package, but in the 1-5-5 he gets the luxury of rushing side-by-side from the weakside with Ware. He’s not getting as many overall nickel reps as Lee, but he’s getting a lot, and he’s making plays, just as he has his entire cameo-filled Cowboys career.
This afternoon: Position by position snap impressions