Anybody who watched a single Cowboys game in 2013 could tell you that the defense needed some work in the offseason, and when the free agency period began, it got worse. The teams all-time sack leader, DeMarcus Ware, and the 2013 sack leader, Jason Hatcher, were either released (Ware), or allowed to walk away and sign a free agent contract with a division rival (Hatcher). Fans' cries for help on the defensive line could be heard in all corners of Cowboys Nation.
Here we are, a few days removed from rookie mini-camp, and about a week before the start of the on field OTA's, and it's safe to say Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett have a whole new quiver full of proverbial arrows to try to improve this Cowboys defense. But what exactly do they have? The table below is how I view the depth chart along the defensive line for when the Cowboys open camp in Oxnard in July.
|Closed End||Nose Tackle||Under Tackle||Open End|
|G. Selvie||T. McClain||H. Melton||D. Lawrence|
|B. Gardner||N. Hayden||T. Crawford||J. Mincey|
|B. Bass||K. Bishop||A. Okoye||C. Rayford|
A Few Quick Takeaways:
- Light on the Right - Looking at this it is easy to see why the Cowboys coveted DeMarcus Lawrence so heavily during the draft. Without him, they don't have a "true" right defensive end on the roster, and failing to address that position in the draft would have likely forced George Selvie to play that side. The Cowboys needed a pressure player for that position, and they believe they've gotten one.
- Where's Anthony Spencer? - The answer: The PUP list... In my opinion he's a huge wildcard, if he is able to come back off the micro-fracture injury and provide anything, even as a situational rusher, I consider that a bonus. My goal for him would be to come off of PUP to start practicing week 8, and coming back on the 53-man roster week 10, potentially being inactive for that week's game in London vs Jacksonville, giving an additional rushing presence in the home stretch (weeks 12-17) of the season featuring games against Eli Manning, Nick Foles (2x), Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III.
- Who doesn't make the team? - The Cowboys will probably carry 9-10 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster. Considering I've got 13 listed here, that means that at least three of these guys won't make the team. The front office could try to slide Davon Coleman and/or Ken Bishop to the practice squad. But this group is the definition of competition, especially in the 2nd and 3rd groups, whoever makes the team will have had to show something significant in the offseason and camp in order to do so.
- Here come the waves - Of the 13 guys I'm showing, only one has very limited upside as a pass rusher, and that is Nick Hayden. That means the man who played the most snaps on the DL for Dallas in 2013 could play the fewest in 2014, if he even makes the team (see above). The thought is every single snap the Cowboys will have multiple players who can bring pressure. Is there anyone who strikes fear into a defense the way DeMarcus Ware did for so many years? Likely not, but there are multiple guys at each spot that can get after the passer, and with a limited number of snaps at max effort, they should be able to generate some sort of disturbance to quarterbacks.
- Youth, Upside, and Question Marks - This group is full of those three things, whether its the four rookies, or the guys like Bass, Crawford, and Rayford, who have big upside potential but haven't shown much production. Or the injury question marks in Spencer, Melton, and Okoye, or guys like Selvie and Mincey who have had one or two quality seasons in the NFL but have yet to be consistently productive, there is little surety on this unit. However, I look at it this way, if you can get one rookie to be productive, one of the upside guys to make a jump, and one of the injured guys returns to form, and one of the inconsistent players to come close to their best year, you may end up a formidable unit with four guys who have 6-8 sacks and two or three more who have 2-3 sacks.