Cowboys Defensive Depth Chart After Two OTAs

Rick Yeatts

The Dallas Cowboys have completed two OTA sessions and the rookie minicamp so far, and kick off their third OTA session today. That's a good time to take a look at what an updated defensive depth chart could look like.

Two of three Organized Team Activities are in the books for the Dallas Cowboys, and the third session kicked off today. Not all practices have been open to the media, but there's been enough information published to give us a better idea of what the team's depth chart could look like.

Before going any further though, keep in mind that this is an early June depth chart. All practices have been conducted without pads, and a lot will change between now and the end of the preseason in August. Even more importantly, players like George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, Henry Melton, Devonte Holloman, Matt Johnson, and Nick Hayden have missed parts or all of OTAs with injuries, while players like CB Tyler Patmon and CB Terrance Mitchell have missed time due to academic obligation. I've simply made assumptions of where each of these players will fit on the depth chart, starting with the defensive line.

Defensive Line
POS Starter Backup Depth Others
LDE George Selvie Tyrone Crawford Ben Gardner Anthony Spencer
3-Tech Henry Melton Ben Bass Davon Coleman Amobi Okoye
1-Tech Terrell McClain Ken Bishop Nick Hayden Chris Whaley
RDE Jeremy Mincey DeMarcus Lawrence Martez Wilson Caesar Rayford

With the Cowboys expected to rotate the defensive linemen heavily during games, I'm not sure the distinction between starter and backup is as important as on other teams. Most of the nominal starters have not taken part in OTAs as they recover from various surgeries, but that has left the door open for the likes of McClain, Lawrence and Bishop, who've all drawn a lot of praise in OTAS so far.

In the end, the defensive line will come down to a numbers game: I assume the top eight here will all make the roster, and there may be one or two spots left for Gardner, Coleman, Wilson, Hayden, and Rayford. Whaley will likely sit out the season on IR, Spencer will start the season on PUP.

Linebackers
POS Starter Backup Depth Others
SLB Kyle Wilber Justin Durant Cameron Lawrence Joe Windsor
MLB DeVonte Holloman Anthony Hitchens Orie Lemon Dontavis Sapp
WLB Bruce Carter Will Smith

At linebacker, Sean Lee leaves a hole in the middle. For now, the most likely replacement appears to be Holloman, with Hitchens being groomed as a backup. Both Lemon and Sapp have shown up well so far, so there could be a real battle here. Durant is penciled in behind Wilber on the strongside because he's got to show up somewhere, but his real value to the Cowboys will likely be as a potential veteran fill-in for all three positions in a unit that is dangerously low on NFL experience.

Defensive Backs
POS Starter Backup Depth Others
LCB Brandon Carr
Terrance Mitchell
Dashaun Phillips
Jocquel Skinner
SCB Orlando Scandrick
B. W. Webb


RCB Morris Claiborne
Tyler Patmon
Sterling Moore

SS J. J. Wilcox
Jeff Heath
Ryan Smith
Ahmad Dixon
FS Barry Church
Jakar Hamilton
Matt Johnson
Keith Smith

The Cowboys will likely play more than half their snaps in some form of sub package, so the slot cornerback is a de facto starter on this defense. Scandrick currently has the lead over Claiborne in the standard defensive package with two CBs, but he moves to the slot as soon as the Cowboys field three CBs.

Tyler Patmon and Terrance Mitchell show up relatively high based solely on accounts out of rookie minicamp. This could be wrong, of course, but for now I have them competing with Webb for that coveted fourth corner spot.

At safety, the Cowboys call Church the free safety, even though he's the guy usually playing in the box. The word out of Valley Ranch right now is that Wilcox has that second spot. Hamilton has been showing up well in camp, and I've moved him up ahead of Matt Johnson, who had to sit out last week's activities as a precaution brought on by soreness in his hamstrings.

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The tables above may suggest that there is ample room on the roster, given that I've listed the depth guys and even have a column called 'others'. But the reality is that it's going to be a tightly contested battle for roster spots almost everywhere. Here's what the number of roster spots looked like on the opening-day rosters on defense over the previous eight years.

Scheme 4-3 3-4
Years 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Defensive Line 10 7 7 7 6 6 6 7
Linebackers 6 8 7 9 9 8 8 9
Defensive Backs 9 10 9 9 9 11 10 9
of which: CB 4 5 5 3 4 7 5 5
of which: S 5 5 4 6 5 4 5 4
Total 25 25 23
25 24 25 24 25

Those numbers likely won't change all that much this year: 9-10 rushmen, 6-7 linebackers, 8-10 defensive backs - and those numbers probably can't add up to more than 25 players.

Agree, disagree? Let us know in the comments whose pet cats I've slighted and which players I've grossly overrated  (and you're only allowed to say "All" if you're a troll).

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