Spencer will look to step into an expanded role in 2009.
Zach Thomas was second on the team in tackles in 2008, a noteworthy accomplishment considering that he never really felt comfortable in Wade Phillips’ 3-4. This was proven when Thomas left for Kansas City with little question surrounding his intentions.
Kevin Burnett also left, heading to San Diego and leaving the mid-outside linebacking duties to veteran Keith Brooking, who signed with Dallas in February after ten seasons in Atlanta.
Brooking figures to fill the weakside role (at least) sufficiently, given his prowess within Phillips’ brand of the defense.
With 2008’s leading tackler Bradie James returning, former first rounder Bobby Carpenter will likely fill Burnett’s role in dime and nickel packages.
On the outside, Greg Ellis’ departure has set up another former first-rounder, Anthony Spencer, for a breakout year. Spencer has been repeatedly lauded by coaches for his abilities, though he remains unproven to some degree, with 4.5 career sacks.
Then there’s DeMarcus Ware. He’s good. He’s actually really good, arguably the best pass rusher in the league. Saying anymore would be a study in excess.
Dallas will be obliged to rely on youth for any depth, precipitating some interesting battles, perhaps, in camp.
Victor Butler and Brandon Williams, both rookies, both defensive ends in college, will make a push for the backup outside spot, and possibly the aforementioned dime and nickel roles.
Third round pick Jason Williams will be in the mix for the role as well, although fans may have to wait a year or two to see him as a full-time linebacker. He will almost certainly make the team, but be featured primarily in special teams.
Training camp kicks off Tuesday July, 28 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.