Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ledesma: Some tough choices on all-decade Dallas 'D'

By Matt Ledesma

Yesterday, Andy Newberry showed you the best the Dallas Cowboys’ offense had to offer in the first decade of this new millennium. Now here’s a look at the other side of the ball.

They say defenses are supposed to win championships, but the guys on my all-decade defensive team have yet to win a playoff game.

But overall, the defense in the ’00s was a respectable unit — one that ranked in the league’s top 10 five times, including a year at No. 1 in 2003.

Once again, this list is based solely on the contributions made during this decade. I’ve also chosen to go with the team’s current 3-4 format, a decision that ultimately affected roster availability in the front seven.

Strong Safety — Roy L. Williams (2002-08). A direct quote from Andy on this selection, “It suxs that he had to make your team.” But with five Pro Bowl selections in the 2000s, Roy is a must start. He looked like the second coming of all-pro safety Darren Woodson after posting 85 tackles, three fumble recoveries and five interceptions in his rookie season. Guess how that turned out.

Free Safety — Ken Hamlin (2007-09). Hamlin was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season with Dallas, and has been a decent option in a secondary that was more than shaky at times.

Inside Linebacker — Dat Nguyen (1999-05) and Bradie James (2003-09). Two guys who I don’t think get the respect they each deserve. Nguyen led the team in tackles three times in seven seasons, and James has paced the defense the last four years. Neither has made a Pro Bowl.

Outside Linebacker — DeMarcus Ware (2005-09) and Dexter Coakley (1997-06): Opposing offenses have learned to beware D-Ware, coming off his third-straight Pro Bowl and a team-record 20-sack season. Coakley was an undersized guy who played way bigger, with seven consecutive 100-plus tackle seasons and three trips to Hawaii.

Cornerback — Terence Newman (2006-09) and Anthony Henry (2005-08): Newman, a 2007 Pro Bowl pick, has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary defensive backfield. When healthy, he’s established himself as a legitimate shutdown corner. Henry was reliable and started 51 of 56 games in four seasons with Dallas.

Defensive Tackle — La’Roi Glover (2002-05). Tough choice since I was only allotting one spot in the middle of the d-line. Even though he was on the down end of his career, Glover still was a force in the trenches, going to four straight Pro Bowls will Dallas. Current Cowboy Jay Ratliff was a close second, and I think eventually he will have the more dominant career.

Defensive End — Greg Ellis (1998-08) and Marcus Spears (2005-09). Ellis made a successful switch to linebacker when coaching and personnel changes mandated it. But he made his bones at defensive end, racking up 52 sacks in eight seasons at the position. Spears has steadily progressed since earning all-rookie honors in ’05.

Punter — Mat McBriar (2004-09). The numbers don’t lie. McBriar became the league’s highest paid punter with his five-year, $8.5 million contract extension in 2007. A year earlier, his 48.2 gross-yard average was the best the NFL had seen in 43 seasons and earned him a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. Arguably might be the best Dallas has ever had at the position.