IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys moved from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 in 2005, they had to adapt their scouting philosophy.
Defensive ends had to be tall with long wingspan. Nose tackles had to be stout and compact. (Yes, Jay Ratliff did not fit that mold.) The linebackers had to be tall and athletic with strength to take on bigger players at the point of attack.
It was an adjustment because for years the Cowboys defense was predicated on speed with smaller linebackers and defensive linemen.
Now that the Cowboys will return to the 4-3 under Monte Kiffin, the scouts will have to adjust again, and perhaps have a larger pool of players to pick from because the height, weight, speed requirements are different than a 3-4.
Before a draftee might have his grade fall because he did not fit for a 3-4. In a 4-3, there can be more flexibility all along the front seven.
The Cowboys would not have drafted a 6-0, 300 pound nose tackle, but Kiffin was able to use an Anthony McFarland (6-0, 300) without any issue in Tampa Bay.
The biggest change will come at linebacker, but two of the three starters – Sean Lee and Bruce Carter – should be able to slide into new roles without much difficulty. They weren’t the prototypical 3-4 inside thumping linebackers. They can run and move.
Where it could help a lot is on special teams. With smaller, faster linebackers, the coverage teams should have more speed and more bodies.