THE WULF DEN: POSITIONAL PREVIEW – DE/DT JULY 30, 2004 This is the fifth part of an eight-part preview of the positional battles Cowboy fans can look forward to in training camp beginning July 31st. In this fifth segment, we will explore the defensive line, where Wiley is in and Blade is out, and big things are expected across the board. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone. It really shouldn’t have—not even Blade. This is a guy who had been released by the ‘Boys, picked up and then released by the Texans, and then was given another shot by Dallas. But that second chance came with some conditions, laid down by Parcells and reinforced by Blade’s father. The number one condition was to stay in condition, both during the season and in the offseason. Last year, he did so, and would have started all 16 games had a knee injury not sidelined him for the season opener against the Falcons. And he looked good. But he wore down during the season, and was being outplayed by both Leo Carson and Daleroy Stewart by the end of the year, despite retaining his starting job. So Parcells told him to continue to work on his conditioning, and expected him to do so. But he didn’t, allowing himself to get severely out of shape, even going so far as to say that he was being paid to play football, not to work out in the offseason. Well, now he’ll have to be paid by the Giants, who claimed him off waivers, and they have the worry of getting his lazy butt into shape. The Cowboys have their own work to do, not only filling Blade’s starting job, but also finding the best depth for the defensive line rotation. So, as the Cowboys head off to Oxnard, let’s look at the defensive linemen, and what we can expect from them as a unit. Defensive Ends Greg Ellis Ellis has been the workhorse for the defensive line ever since he came into the league. He’s had some help from La’Roi Glover the last couple of years, but Ellis has been the main guy. He is also a team leader, which is one of the reasons the Cowboys signed him to a contract extension last year. And, despite getting almost no help from the other side (manned up until this year almost exclusively by Ebenezer Ekuban), he has put up some very solid numbers. Now Ellis has an injury in his second year in the league (1999), and it took him a while to get back up to speed the following year. But the past three years, he has averaged 58 tackles, 7 sacks, 5 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles per season. Those are very solid, particularly having played on the strong side where he often had to beat both an OT and a TE. If anything, we can expect those numbers to go up, as Ellis is being moved to the other side. While that does mean that he has to go face-to-face with the opposing teams best O-lineman more often than not, he’s a good enough player to win some—if not most—of those battles. Of course, much of that is contingent on newcomer Marcellus Wiley being able to produce in Ellis’ former position, providing the assistance that Ekuban was never able to give. Marcellus Wiley Many fans have been calling for improvement opposite Greg Ellis for years. Of course, we hoped that Ebenezer Ekuban would finally develop into the pass-rushing threat we all thought he could be. Instead, he gradually became a poor man’s version of Ellis, improving against the run but with little success against the pass, and with only a shadow of the production. So he’s gone, reuniting with former Cowboys’ Head Coach Dave Campo in Cleveland. Enter Marcellus Wiley, the former Buffalo Bill and San Diego Charger, who steps into the vacancy left by Ekuban’s departure. The Chargers released him in a salary cap move this offseason, using not only his salary, but also his lack of production last season as their reasoning. But if you look at the defensive players that the Chargers either released or traded away two years ago—names that include pro-bowlers and team leaders like S Rodney Harrison and LB Junior Seau—it would be a greater surprise if Wiley’s stats hadn’t dropped. Add in the rookies that Marty Schottenheimer has been forcing into the starting lineup in the defensive backfield, and it was a recipe for disaster. But the Chargers’ loss may well be the Cowboys’ gain. Wiley is coming to town eager to prove that last season was the fluke, rather than the career high in sacks he had his last season in Buffalo. Add in the fact that he will have some legitimate help on the D-line for the first time in recent years, and expecting his production to be more like his previous few seasons is much more likely. From 1999-2002, which covers his last two years in Buffalo and his first two years in San Diego, Wiley averaged 43 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and an INT. Those numbers are more than respectable, and to expect the same production—or even better—with the players he’ll have lined up around him is not out of the question. Eric Ogbogu Over the last three years, Ogbogu has played for three different teams (the Jets, Bengals, and Cowboys). But the Jets drafted John Abraham and Shaun Ellis to be their starters, limiting his playing time. The Bengals didn’t use him properly. And, when the new regime came in, Ogbogu didn’t have the stats to stick around. Enter Parcells, for whom Ogbogu had played in New York. He brought Ogbogu in with the expectations that he would develop into a pass-rush specialist, and he seems to be going in that direction. Last year, he played in all 16 games and produced 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles despite not being a starter. That’s quality production from your #3 DE, and gives the Cowboys confidence that he can rotate in for Greg Ellis in pass-rush situations without a significant drop-off. If he continues to produce that way—and there’s no reason to think he won’t—the Cowboys will be very pleased. Kenyon Coleman The Cowboys traded two draft picks to acquire Coleman from the Oakland Raiders (a 6th and a 7th round pick), so they have quite a bit invested in him already. But he’s young, having only played two seasons in the NFL, and got very little playing time his rookie season in Oakland. Last year, he progressed, playing in all 16 games, finishing the season with 14 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Not stellar numbers, but not bad either for a second year guy who is still learning the ropes. This year, he’s the leading candidate to back-up Wiley, and should be able to retain the job, barring injuries or a significant drop-off. Ryan Wingrove Who is this guy? I mean, other than the fact that he’s a 6-3, 270 pound DE from Bowling Green, what do we know? The answer: not much. He was in camp with Atlanta two years ago, but was injured and released. He played for the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe in 2002, playing solidly. Then, he worked out for both the Jets and Cowboys this spring, hoping to catch on for another training camp. Parcells signed him early in the offseason, and since then, his name has only been mentioned on roster lists. There has been no report that he’s been showing something positive, that he’s helping on special teams, that he’s caught Parcells’ eye in workouts or in the locker room. Nothing. Of course, unless he has shown at least enough to look at through training camp, he may be the last guy released to get down to the 85-player limit. If he has shown enough, he’ll be around at least until the first round of cuts. But he’s going to have to go from unknown to special teams stud in 0 to 60 (or two weeks) to have a shot at the roster. Darrell Lee The former Gator didn’t get a chance to start until his senior season, starting 12 of Florida’s 13 games. But when he got his chance, he took advantage of it, turning in a very solid campaign. He finished the season with 55 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 5 tackles for a loss, and 4 sacks. He has an outside shot at a roster spot—especially if there is an injury, but it’s very unlikely. It is much more likely that he is trying to earn his way onto the practice squad. With the number of players on practice squads being increased from 5 to 8 this year, there are three more spots up for grabs, and Lee has as good of a chance at one as anyone else. Kevin Emanuel The Seminole rookie moved into the starting line-up in his sophomore season, and started every game thereafter. He developed into a team leader on defense in his remaining two years, and posted very solid numbers. Over his final two seasons, Emanuel averaged 37 tackles, 3 fumbles caused, 13 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Like his counterpart from Gainesville, Emanuel only has an outside shot at making the roster. Special teams, as always, will either be his ticket onto the roster or his ticket out of town. And, also like Lee, his best shot of sticking around is on the practice squad. Defensive Tackles La’Roi Glover Glover is still one of the premiere DTs in the league. He doesn’t always have the stats that some others do, but every player and coach knows how good he is—that’s why he ends up in the Pro Bowl time and time again. Even when he isn’t getting a sack, he’s taking up multiple offensive linemen allowing others to make a play. And there’s no reason to think his production will drop this year. He just turned 30, so he should still have plenty of juice in the tank. Since he became a starter in his sophomore season (1997), he has averaged 46 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery each season. Add in all of the plays that he makes to free up other players, and you see why he is such a key piece to the Cowboys’ success. Expect him to achieve at least his average production this year, as he’ll have the best personnel around him since his best years in New Orleans. Daleroy Stewart The Cowboys drafted Stewart in the 6th round of the 2001 draft, knowing that he had an injury that would keep him sidelined for a while. As it turned out, he didn’t play a game in 2001. Or in 2002. But last year, in an effort to increase their production, the Cowboys gave Stewart some playing time. He started off slow, but gained momentum as the season wore on. He ended up playing in 15 games, recording 16 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. That production in limited time will earn him even more of a look in training camp this year—especially after the release of Willie Blade, last year’s starter. Stewart will likely be going toe to toe with veteran Leo Carson to determine who will start next to Glover, with Jermaine Brooks having an outside shot. But whoever wins that battle, Stewart will provide solid depth and play in the DT rotation. Leonardo Carson Carson will be the primary competition for Stewart, and it should be a fun battle to watch. The 5-year veteran came to the Cowboys last year after being released by San Diego, following some off the field problems. In fact, it was due to the efforts of Parcells and the Cowboys that he is currently in training camp, rather than in jail. Carson really seemed to contribute a lot last year when he had a chance to play, despite not having the best stats. In 45 games over the past 3 years, he has 84 total tackles, 8 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 4 fumble recoveries. Again, not the greatest of numbers. But it just seemed that, when a play was needed, he was in on it. And don’t forget his significant contribution this offseason: he helped to lure former teammate and close friend Marcellus Wiley to Dallas via free agency. Now, all he has to do is kick it into high gear, and he may well get the chance to start next to his former D-line mate. Jermaine Brooks Jermaine Brooks is another player who had some off-the-field trouble, and came to Dallas with a one-time chance to get it right. He played in only 6 games as a senior, recording 14 total tackles, before being kicked off the team. Parcells took a chance on him, though, and brought him to Dallas. He only played in one game for the Cowboys last season, but has 5 total tackles. That’s a very solid effort for his first foray into the NFL. But he’ll have to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. He has made some very good strides during the offseason, drawing the attention of Parcells in a very positive way. Now he’ll have to keep it up. He has the best chance at capturing the fourth and last DT spot on the roster, and could be very active in the regular rotation. But he’ll have to keep up the hard work…and stay out of trouble. Cedric Hilliard Hilliard is trying to make the practice squad, pure and simple. Oh, sure, there’s an outside chance that he could make the roster. But he’s an undrafted rookie who only started for two and a half seasons in college and had moderate production. In the last three years, Hilliard had 85 total tackles, 15 of which were tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Not great, but not poor. He’ll have to show even more to stay around past the first cutdown date. Shaun Smith Smith was on the practice squad last year, and didn’t play. He must have shown something to stick around this long, but he’ll have to take it up another notch if he wants to have any chance of making the roster. What he may need more than anything else is playing time. He didn’t get any last year, and only started 2 of the 12 games in which he played in 2002. In that season, he had 38 total tackles, a fumble, and a sack. He’s likely fighting Hilliard to convince Parcells to keep a DT on the practice squad. Closing Thoughts The defensive line is shaping up nicely, with only one starting position up for grabs. Ellis and Wiley will start at DE, and Ogbogu and Coleman are the likely back-ups. At DT, Glover will start, and the winner of the Stewart/Carson/Brooks battle will start next to him. The other two will likely make the roster as back-ups. As for the rest, those eligible for the practice squad will be fighting it out for, at most, two slots. Parcells doesn’t like keeping any more defensive linemen on the roster than he absolutely has to, as they typically don’t contribute much on special teams. So there will likely be 4 DEs and 4 DTs, while Wingrove, Lee, Emanuel, Hilliard, and Smith duke it out. As it always is this time of year, the big enigma is the injury bug. But if they can stay healthy, this will be a highly productive D-line. The starters alone should have at least 25 sacks, based on their past production, and should be able to take some of the pressure off of the young defensive backfield. Wulfman Comments? Send a private message to Wulfman on this site.