In the first part of this post, I discussed what to watch for on the offensive side of the football. Now let us move over to the defensive side, where there are some new faces and good position battles taking place. Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have high expectations in 2012 after Jerry Jones went out and gave him some new weapons for his defense.
Ryan is entering his just second season in Dallas, but he will be on the hot seat if he doesn't put together a better defense. That may not be fair, but right now that is just the nature of the beast.
While Ryan is known for his 3-4 defense that uses a variety of exotic looks and blitzes, I expect to see Ryan change it up a lot more this year. Most of the starters are returning, so Ryan should have the advantage of his players being more comfortable in his system. We shouldn't make excuses for the poor play of the defense last year, but the shortened offseason did play a part in the failure of the defense to perform at a high level.
With a new season, there is a fresh start. The Dallas defense needs to put 2011 behind them and move on. This is a very talented defense that trimmed a lot of the fat. Keith Brooking, Bradie James and Terence Newman have all been replaced by younger and more athletic players. If this defense performs at a higher level, we should win more than eight games.
What should we watch for on Monday night? Take the jump for more...
The Defensive Line
Believe it or not, the defensive line appears to be a strength of the defense. Jason Hatcher is coming off a career year, and he should continue to be a disruptive force on the line. Perhaps our best rookie has been Tyrone Crawford, not Morris Claiborne. Crawford improves every day in practice, and he should play a meaningful role in 2012. He is one of the players I am most excited to see in Oakland on Monday night.
The Cowboys decided to hang onto Clifton Geathers for a couple of years and develop him. So far he is paying off on the move, and he continues to be one of our most improved players. Watching him against other offensive lineman in live action should be a treat.
We already know what Sean Lissemore brings to the table, so we really don't have to be on the lookout for him. However, Josh Brent, Rob Callaway and Ben Bass are other names to watch for on Monday night.
The Battle At Inside Linebacker
One of the most significant upgrades the Cowboys made during the offseason was moving on from Keith Brooking and Bradie James. They were beginning to show their age, and they became a liability on the defense. Newcomer Dan Connor is in a battle with Bruce Carter for the starting inside linebacker job next to Sean Lee. We got a little taste of what Carter could do towards the end of the season last year. His athleticism really excites me, and I cannot wait to see him against the Raiders.
The best man is going to win this battle, and the loser will still play an important role on the defense. Finally getting the chance to see the two in a real game will be one of the highlights of the night.
Another name to keep an eye on is undrafted free agent Orie Lemon. He is entering his second season with the Cowboys, and he is starting to become a more complete football player. Lemon is facing stiff competition from Alex Albright, so this is another battle to pay close attention to.
Kyle Wilber And Adrian Hamilton
After taking a closer look, Wilber was a draft pick that I really liked. He comes from a 3-4 defense at Wake Forest, so he already has experience and is ahead of the learning curve. Throughout training camp, Wilber has been flashing some of the pass rushing potential he has. I am really excited about finally getting the opportunity to see him play.
Before the draft, Hamilton was a name that popped up as a potential sleeper. He comes from a small school, but his pass rushing ability is off the charts. What I really liked about him is that he has the speed to come off the edge, but he also appears to have more than one pass rushing move.
The Cowboys need to find another pass rusher other than DeMarcus Ware. You simply cannot win football games in the NFL without generating pressure from different positions. Wilber and Hamilton have the potential to become very good pass rushers down the road. They should see a lot of playing time on Monday night, so pay attention to #51 and #53.
The Safety Position
Brodney Pool didn't last long with the Cowboys after failing his conditioning test. The Cowboys released him a few days later, but it may have been due to the fact that Barry Church looks like a starting caliber player. Church has really been elevating his game in practice, but can he do it in a real game?
That is the question that many of us are wondering. Right now the Cowboys are putting all of their faith on Church, but if he fails, they would be put into a difficult situation. I really like Barry Church, but I just hope he is the answer at the safety position. At the moment, there really aren't too many options behind him. Matt Johnson is still recovering from an injury, but he should begin practicing in pads this week.
As of right now, I see Mario Butler making this team as a safety and cornerback. He is taking a lot of reps at safety, but he is also in the running for one of the backup cornerback spots on the roster. That is the type of versatility that gets you on a 53-man roster. Butler displayed very good coverage in the pre-season last year, so be on the lookout for #31.