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Should Marcus Spears Start for Dallas?

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It is no secret that the Cowboys shopped defensive end Marcus Spears during the draft.  It is likely that Spears garnered some interest, but not enough for Dallas to give him up (they reportedly wanted a third-rounder or better).

But should the Cowboys have pulled the trigger on Spears, a restricted free agent who will almost certainly be out of Dallas in 2011? After all, Spears may not even start this season.  He recently acknowledged such, claiming he knows he will have to fight for his job in training camp.

In our 2009 defensive line grades, Spears (80.2%), Jason Hatcher (80.2%), and Stephen Bowen (79.8%) all checked in with basically the same grade. Their statistics are listed to the left.

Notice that no player was dominant (or terrible) in 2009.  Olshansky was clearly the team’s best run defender (at defensive end), but the best pass-rusher is debatable.  Bowen led the ‘Boys in sack rate and quarterback hit rate, while Hatcher checked in with an impressive 4.40% QB pressure rate.  We consider pressures to be the stat which is most indicative of a player’s pass-rushing ability.

Spears was again solid (but not stellar) versus the run, but he struggled against the pass.  While he is on the field for more run plays than either Bowen or Hatcher, his quarterback pressure  rate of 1.87% was lower than Olshansky’s (2.01%).

Still, we are not sure either Bowen or Hatcher would be an upgrade over Spears during early downs.  Both players recorded rather poor tackle rates, and Spears is still reliable against the run.

Thus, assuming everything goes as expected during training camp (a big assumption, we admit), then we propose that Spears continues to start and get the bulk of early down work with Olshansky.  We would slowly transition Bowen into Spears’ role, providing him with an increasing amount of early down snaps as the season progresses (as long as he proves he can handle the load).

Meanwhile, we believe Hatcher is going to have a breakout season.  We would label him the Cowboys’ best pass-rushing defensive end, despite his lack of sacks last season.  With 17 quarterback pressures, his sack number is sure to increase in 2010.  We would compare the potential 2010 version of Hatcher to the ’09 version of Anthony Spencer.  In other words, Hatcher is primed to break out. Don’t be surprised to see him finish the season with five or six sacks–a large number for a 3-4 end.

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2 Responses to Should Marcus Spears Start for Dallas?

  1. john coleman says:

    Please help me with the 3-4 DE. It is a nonstat position, supposedly. As the DE occupies OTs and sometimes OTs and OGs. Thus allowing the LBs to make plays. Here’s the rub. Does not NT do the exact same thing? NT gets a lot of C/G doubles. Both positions occupy blockers for the LBs. Yet our NT produces heat consistently, and the DEs get a free pass. I see no difference. IMO it is just that Rat is dominant, and Spears is solid. Why don’t we just tell Rat to occupy his man/men and forget sacks. BTW I’m for keeping all of them including Dixon, and Lissemore too, if he shows anything. Let Siavii go, and let Olshansky and/or Spears and/or Hatcher spell Rat. What’s the difference?

  2. For your first question, Phillips does give Ratliff a lot of freedom to penetrate. Some 3-4 NT eat up blocks, but Ratliff isn’t one of them. Having said that, his job IS very similar to the ends, just inside.

    The difference would be the lack of 3-4 NT experience from anyone other than Siavii, although that doesn’t mean I am against it. You would think either Olshansky, Spear, or Lissemore could handle the job inside. Not as sure about Hatcher.

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