Sports Outside the Beltway

Dallas Cowboys Slimming Down Under Wade Phillips

Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips are both fat guys. Unlike the former, though, the latter likes his players to be thin and fast rather than big and strong.

A year ago, the Cowboys’ defense was touted as the biggest unit in team history. But in another example of the changes in Dallas with the departure of Bill Parcells and the hiring of Wade Phillips as coach, bigger is no longer better.

Parcells’ version of the 3-4 alignment required size because it was predicated on one-on-one physical confrontations and stalemates. Phillips’ 3-4 is about speed, quickness and agility. “A big guy that can run is better than just a big guy,” Phillips said. “I want them running to the football. I want great pursuit.”

Phillips said he told strength and conditioning coach Joe Juraszek he wanted his players to be able to run as fast as they could. The only way to do that was to have a number of Cowboys spend the off-season losing weight.

The result was linebacker Bradie James and safety Roy Williams coming into training camp looking and feeling like they were ready to do a NutriSystem commercial with Mike Golic. James has lost more than 20 pounds, going from 260 last year to as low as 237. He plans to play at 245. “I haven’t been this light since college,” James said. “I feel good. I feel a lot better.”

The team media guide has Williams going from 229 to 221. But even he acknowledges he was heavier than that last season before ballooning to 246 in the off-season. “It’s a huge difference for me,” said Williams, who is down to the weight he was at as a rookie in 2002. “I’m flying around, man. I’m full of joy and a whole bunch of energy.” Williams will be asked to blitz a lot more under Phillips, and his reduced weight should help him get to the quarterback faster, as well as be more effective in pass coverage.

Other Cowboys who are trimmer, sleeker versions of their former selves are linebackers Bobby Carpenter, Akin Ayodele, Kevin Burnett, Junior Glymph, Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware.

It’s no coincidence the majority of the weight loss has come at one position. When Parcells talked about size on defense, he mainly pointed to the linebacker position, especially considering the mighty mites who played the position when he arrived in Dallas in 2003. The undersized Dat Nguyen and Dexter Coakley won Parcells’ respect for their heart and attitude, but they were never his kind of linebackers.

When Parcells switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4 in 2005, getting bigger at linebacker was a must. Linebackers often had to take on 300-pound linemen because there was little movement up front from the defensive line. Even guys with big frames, such as James, had to add more weight to play in the scheme.

Now, because the noseguard will be shaded off the center and there will be stunts and movement up front, the linebackers will be free to roam.

“I got big because I was protecting myself to fit in that scheme,” said James, who lost weight by changing his diet and adhering to Juraszek’s workout program. “Last year I couldn’t play the position at the weight I am now. I wouldn’t have made it to Game 8. Now I don’t have to wrestle with 300-pound guys. I can play linebacker from sideline to sideline.”

Said Ellis: “You don’t have to be that strong guy that is going to overpower everybody. And because you do more moving around in this scheme, speed is more important than size.”

That was the philosophy under Jimmy Johnson and, really, all his successors before Parcells. While the talent level on the defense is undeniably much better now than it was when Parcells took over, I always felt he squandered a lot of progress by radically changing that philosophy. The team went to the playoffs his first season and had the number 1 ranked defense in the league. By blowing it up and going big, he wasted two seasons.

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