NFL rumors are swirling around Cedric Thornton. After walking away from the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, the defensive tackle decided to sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Thornton was the biggest free agency acquisition for the Cowboys this off season. Dallas has repeatedly expressed how happy that they are to have Thornton. It’s just that they don’t know what he will be doing for the team. According to ESPN, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett doesn’t know where Thorton will be playing.
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli runs a Tampa 2 defensive scheme. In it, there’s a nose tackle, who occupies two blockers. Next to him is a defensive tackle who plays the underneath technique. He’s the guy that disrupts the quarterback and running back by breaking through the offensive line. On the outside, you have two defensive ends who are required to get up field and attack the quarterback before he has a chance to get rid of the football.
Last fall, Tyrone Crawford was handed a $45 million contract by the Dallas Cowboys. That’s a lot of money, so they need him to be as disruptive as possible as the underneath defensive tackle. Rod Marinelli likes to set up his defensive line so that Crawford can consistently get one-on-one matches against an opposing guard. To do that most effectively, Crawford needs to be lined up next to a massive defensive end like Vince Wilfork.
Unfortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, the best role for Cedric Thornton is the same one that they have Tyrone Crawford playing in. At 310 pounds, Thornton is the heavier of the two. He can hold his own as a nose tackle. However, it might not be the best value for their investment to pigeonhole him into that role. That’s the reason why Jason Garrett has been hesitant to commit Thornton to the nose tackle position when asked by the media.
To avoid answering the question directly, Jason Garrett continues to point out how versatile Cedric Thornton is. The Dallas Cowboys head coach pointed out that when his team played against Thornton, the Philadelphia Eagles made sure to move Cedric around the defensive line. Garrett and Rod Marinelli might try a few of the things that the Eagles did with Thornton, but Marinelli is pretty loyal to the Tampa 2 defensive scheme.
Last season, the Dallas Cowboys introduced a new dime package. It was essentially three pass rushers with Rolando McClain and Sean Lee as the only two linebackers on the field. That unit worked out pretty well, so there’s a good chance that Rod Marinelli will experiment with it some more next season. Cedric Thornton could be especially valuable in that package because he has experience playing defensive end in a 3-4 formation.
Another interesting idea to best utilize Cedric Thornton is to play the 4-3 under formation. That enables Thornton to play defensive end over the tight end, a match up that he should be able to win. Dallas Cowboys weak side linebacker Sean Lee can then shift outside past the offensive tackle. There, he can use his athleticism to see if he can get to the quarterback. Lee is versatile, so it would be best to unleash him from various spots on the field.
Sometimes, it seems puzzling when NFL coaches and executives acquire players who aren’t necessarily a fit for the roster that they already have and the schemes that they already use. On the surface, Cedric Thornton might not make a ton of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. However, guys in the National Football League are paid millions because of their knowledge of the sport. They can figure out how to make it work.
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