Switching DeMarcus Ware to defensive end will be the easiest part of Monte Kiffin's attempt to transition the Dallas Cowboys' 3-4 personnel to a 4-3 defense.
Kiffin's 4-3 'under' front will use Ware in a similar way to how he has played most of his career. He will still act as the focal point of the Cowboys' pass rush, by providing pressure from the edge. He will still be aligned wide and on the openside of the formation, away from a tight end. If anything, Ware could have even more pass-rush opportunities playing for Kiffin, than he did operating in a 3-4. That has to be scary thought for the Cowboys' opponents in 2013.
Taking a closer at the switch, a useful comparison is how Ware played under Wade Phillips from 2007-10. When Phillips took over, he altered the 3-4 scheme of previous head coach, Bill Parcells. Under Parcells, the Cowboys operated a traditional, 2-gap 3-4 front. While Ware was still the scheme's main pass-rusher, Parcells' system demanded more coverage responsibilities and extra reads on the outside.
Phillips changed all that by implementing his trademark 1-gap 3-4. Essentially he employed a 5-2 front that had Ware on the line of scrimmage and rushing on most plays. In essence he was a standup defensive end. Ware flourished, recording 60.5 sacks in this role.
Kiffin's defensive line uses a similar alignment. His defensive tackles will now only be responsible for a single gap and Ware will still be positioned in a wide alignment. Simeon Rice thrived in the same role under Kiffin, for years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, notching 69.5 sacks.
Like Ware, Rice weighed in at the 255 to 270-pound range and stood 6'4" to 6'5." He also possessed cat-quick off the snap speed and the length and agility to explode off the edge. That's the basic prototype for the rush ends Kiffin likes to employ.
As the most athletic member of the defensive line, Kiffin's rush end also has some coverage responsibilities in certain zone blitzes. Blitzing the Mike and Sam linebackers on the strongside, while the weak-side end drops into zone coverage in the flat, is a common zone pressure in 'under' front schemes.
Ware's experience executing pass drops as a 3-4 outside linebacker, will be useful when Kiffin draws up these kind of pressures. Ware's own experience operating as a 4-3 end in college at Troy, makes this more a return to his roots, rather than a major positional shift.
From his wide-6 alignment outside the left tackle, Ware's run defense responsibilities won't change. He will still be required to set the edge and defend the cutback. Despite his lean frame, Ware plays big and will have no trouble locking up with tackles in the running game.
When Ware aligns in a two-point stance, the defense will have the appearance of a 3-4. When he puts his hand down and operates from a three-point stance, the front will resume its 4-3 look.
Ware has always been more hybrid rush end than true outside linebacker. That's what will make his switch to defensive end in Kiffin's 4-3 so easy. He is the ideal versatile athlete Kiffin needs to make his version of the 4-3 succeed in Dallas.