One of the things that’s almost taken for granted in Cowboys land is the stellar front seven on the defensive side of the ball. DeMarcus Ware! Jay Ratliff! Anthony Spencer!
Jay Ratliff comes off a season that saw him make First-Team All Pro. He shares that honor with DeMarcus Ware, who made First-Team All Pro for the third consecutive year. Ware apparently wants to do more than just get sacks. It appears that he has his eyes set on getting a few interceptions this year as well.
And Anthony Spencer is pushing hard to garner All Pro honors as well. Tim MacMahon had an interesting take on what could happen if Spencer keeps up the pace from the last eight games last season
Check the stats: Eight sacks, eight tackles for losses, 20 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Now double those numbers. You’re talking about a dude who would be among the NFL’s sacks leaders while dominating against the run.
Four of the Dallas Cowboys front seven players (DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking, Marcus Spears and Anthony Spencer) are former 1st round picks, Igor Olshansky was a 2nd rounder, Bradie James a 4th rounder and Jay Ratliff a seventh round steal. That is some serious talent right there. Add Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins to the mix and 6 out of 11 starters on defense are former first round picks.
So how exactly are the front seven going to make the O-Line better?
Imagine you’re an offensive lineman and you have to go up against these guys in training camp. That's enough to give you headaches. Now imagine you’re an offensive lineman, you’ve just gone through OTAs and you have to read something like this about your performance:
Defensive end Igor Olshansky is known more for his power than his speed, but he was barely touched when racing past guard Kyle Kosier.
Demarcus Ware — who, admittedly, makes a lot of blockers look bad — blazed untouched past Free.
That's the stuff of nightmares. Wouldn’t you rather impress the coaches with plays like these:
When facing a team with an exceptionally fast right defensive end, the Cowboys might consider playing Barron instead of Free. […] Barron had both the size and quickness to keep Ware at bay.
The players aren’t wearing pads, and aren’t supposed to be hitting each other much, but the hit of the day definitely was turned in by Barron. Matched up against linebacker Curtis Johnson — who, at 6-3, 237 is five inches shorter and 78 pounds lighter than Barron — the Cowboys’ new acquisition basically forklifted Johnson, tossed him to the ground and then flopped down on top of him. It’s safe to say that had it been a real play in a real game, Johnson would have gone nowhere.
The offensive line cannot be thrilled with with their performance in OTAs. Even Brandon Williams made headlines against the O-Line:
The outside linebacker flew off the edge, put a slight fake on the left tackle before dipping his left shoulder to the ground and getting to the quarterback.
It's a move DeMarcus Ware has used repeatedly since his rookie year and it's helped make him one of the most devastating pass rushers in the NFL.
But this wasn't Ware. This was Brandon Williams.
Granted, judging O-line play without pads isn't all that telling, but when a guy who was stuck on special teams for most of the season makes a big play against the first team offense, you've gotta start wondering.
Curtis Johnson had a would-be sack of Romo earlier during that run of plays, coming free off the left edge. Romo attempted to spin away but he would have been in Johnson's grasp in a real game.
The O-line can't be happy with these reports. In fact, they must be seething. And that is as it should be. I want them humiliated. I want them to enter training camp with something to prove. I want them to go head to head against one of the best defenses in the league and get better every day. I want them to enter the season mad, bad and dangerous to know.
Above all, I want to read only reports like this about the O-line play next season:
Center Andre Gurode was barely challenged. He faced speed rushers like Jay Ratliff and power rushers like Marcus Spears, and not only did he not get beaten for a "sack," he barely even gave ground.
The best medicine for a struggling O-line? An elite front seven.