Before the catastrophe that is the Sean Lee injury overtook everything, the big worry for the Cowboys was still along the defensive line. The story is a familiar one, injuries depleted the position in 2013, the Cowboys defense stunk, they lost two of their best players along the defensive line this offseason, they might stink worse. Or something long those lines. At one time the Cowboys were supposed to line up with Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware along the line in 2013. Ratliff never played, Spencer barely played, Ware played hurt and Hatcher had a breakout year. Now, of those players only Spencer remains and he may be on the PUP for the start of the year.
The Cowboys do have some guys that could help. George Selvie turned in a great season last year after being rescued off the scrap heap by Rod Marinelli. If he can repeat the 2013 season, you have a serviceable starter who would benefit from having a rotation player behind him. Henry Melton could be a very valuable piece assuming his knee is okay, and so far that seems to be the case. Of course the Cowboys are depending on second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence to provide a serious pass-rushing threat.
But there are a couple of guys who are getting good early reviews who might provide some help in the rotation.
One is Terrell McClain, a third-round pick in 2011 who was run out of Carolina after one year, and ended up playing with Houston last year. McClain is a former South Florida Bull like Selvie so maybe Marinelli can work his magic once again. The knock on McClain has always been on consistency, technique and mental approach. Most observers think the talent is there, but even when he was drafted scouts said he would need the right kind of coach to draw out his true potential. The Cowboys could use McClain at the 1-tech or 3-tech. His size and playing style might be better for the 3-tech, the spot he lined up at yesterday and received accolades from Bryan Braoddus.
One defensive lineman that really showed up in the team periods, was tackle Terrell McClain. His quickness off the snap was impressive. When I studied his play with the Texans, he was totally out of place playing as the nose in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. What I projected him to play for the Cowboys was the one-technique, but with no Henry Melton, he took reps at the three-tech and was all over the place. The majority of the running plays for the offense were zone stretch plays, and there were several snaps where McClain was so quick off the snap that the offensive tackles had a hard time getting a hat on him. He was into the backfield and onto the ball. I still think he could be better as a one but he sure grabbed my attention as a three.
Another guy who might have been overlooked in the draft was Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner. His numbers at his pro day were impressive, he has a high motor and there was some question as to why he was drafted so low.
I wonder if it was his short arms (just under 31 inches) that dropped Gardner down boards. It won't matter because Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will likely fall in love with his effort and intensity. That Gardner is a hell of an athlete with pretty good hands technique makes me believe that he will, at the very least, be a part of the Cowboys' pass rush packages at some point during the upcoming season. I would also be willing to bet that he will be very productive in that role.
The Cowboys are going for the numbers approach to the defensive line this season. Bring in a ton of guys, hope that competition in practice and at camp will raise everyone's game, then send a solid wave of rotating players at tiring offensive lines. If McClain and Gardner can add to that, maybe things won't be so bad after all.