Depth at defensive tackle is a concern that many of us here at Blogging The Boys share; although it seems that the team views the situation differently. Veterans Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff are certainly more than capable as the starters, but beyond that point there is little more than potential for the Cowboys to rely on. The question I keep asking myself is what happens when the starters need a breather or, God forbid, one goes down with an injury?
Two key guys that the Cowboys will rely on are Sean Lissemore and Ben Bass. Off season free agent acquisition Nick Hayden will also likely see some action in the rotation as well. According to owner Jerry Jones, the defensive line is one of the strengths of the team, and Monte Kiffin appears to feel the same way. He told Head Coach Jason Garrett that he needed linebackers instead of rushmen. Lets take a look at the players that give these men, if not us, confidence.
The former seventh round draft pick out of William & Mary will be entering his fourth season with Dallas. He, like fellow seventh rounder Jay Ratliff, will likely outplay his draft position, but can he be the anchor along the defensive line on a consistent basis? The time has come for Lissy to show that he can be the starter if either Hatcher or Ratliff goes down. Neither of those men is getting any younger, and Ratliff does have a recent history of injury. For Sean Lissemore, the time to assert himself is now.
As a senior at William & Mary, Sean put up some decent numbers. He recorded 66 tackles (30 solo) to go along with 6.5 sacks. As a professional, he needs to show himself able to post similar stats. Last summer Pro Football Focus named him as the Cowboys "Secret Superstar" based on his performance in 2011 when he racked up 28 tackles (19 solo) and 2 sacks. In part PFF stated that he "made people think that he was on the field a lot more than he actually was". This is the type of performance Lissemore will need to deliver to fill the role that he has in 2013.
The undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M will be entering his second season in the NFL. As I stated in my post about Bass being ready to take the next step, Bad Ben came out of nowhere to make the practice squad and eventually the active roster last season. Considering the twists and turns that his career has taken so far, the one thing that stands out is that Ben Bass is really determined to be a football player. That is a characteristic of being the right kind of guy, but not a ringing endorsement of his play so far.
This is the point where I would normally reference what the player had accomplished, but for Bass those numbers are rather thin. At A&M Bass recorded 4.5 tackles and 2 sacks during his senior season. Similarly he has one assisted tackle in two appearances as a Cowboy. Everything that is expected of Ben Bass is based on potential and what he has shown in practice. We can only hope that Ben returns to the form he showed as a senior at Plano West High School, where he was the subject of a recruiting war between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Aggies.
Hayden brings a veteran presence of sorts. Entering his sixth season in the league, Nick has appeared in a total of 28 games. A former sixth round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008, he spent three seasons with that team before joining the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011. A career journeyman, Hayden brings some experience to offset Bass' complete lack of it. That is, if you consider 28 games as being experienced. Here is a look at the debate our sister site, Cat Scratch Reader, had about Hayden's future in Carolina.
The former Wisconsin Badger was twice selected as an Honorable Mention All Big-10 selection (2005,2007). During his senior season, Nick recorded 71 tackles (48 solo) and 4.5 sacks. During his professional career he has accumulated 67 tackles (53 solo) and only 2 sacks. During that time, only twice has he appeared in more than two games in a season. Did I mention that he has only appeared in 28 games?
Although I do see some potential impact out of both Lissemore and Bass; the defensive tackle situation, beyond Hatcher and Ratliff, scares me just a little. Quite frankly, I don't see Hayden as a player that will see action in more than a handful of games unless something goes seriously wrong this season. We, as fans, have to trust in the coaching staff to know what these guys are capable of doing, and that they will get that potential out of them. Unless the team signs a solid defensive tackle that gets caught up in a numbers game somewhere around the league, the interior of the defensive line is what it is.
I keep telling myself that the team knows more than I do. Sometimes it helps.
What is your take, BtB? Can these guys overcome their lack of experience and fill the bill for our beloved Cowboys?