"We feel like defensive line is a position of strength for us." - Jerry Jones
I am sure that you remember Jerry's comments just as well as I do. They have become something of a running joke around these parts, but in all honesty many of us felt the same as Jerry did. We know that the long-term prognosis was that Dallas was going to have to undertake a significant rebuilding along the defensive line, but the short-term looked pretty solid. With three recent Pro Bowlers and a player who was finally coming into his own, there was reason to believe that Dallas could afford to be picky as far as defensive linemen were concerned.
Ultimately, we learned the hard way that this was not the case.
"We lost four of the five that we thought we were going to compete with all year long, much less initially or at periods of time, and so I didn’t anticipate that." - Jerry Jones
Unlike you and me, Jerry Jones is in a position that when he is forced to eat crow, he has to do it in a very public way. For the Dallas Cowboys owner, that day of reckoning came during a session with the media while he attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. When asked why the team had not anticipated the crisis to its defensive line, the boss stepped right up to the table and took a huge bite of crow. In typical Jerry-fashion, the boss managed to shrug off the taste.
"So I thought, yeah, we thought we could be pretty selective before we took a defensive lineman, but that just shows you, you can be long or feel pretty good about where you are as a team and a position and then very quickly get in a pretty compromised spot relative to injury."
While the core of what became known at Valley Ranch as "Rushmen" may have appeared solid, the football gods had other intentions. Former Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff would suffer an "injury" during conditioning tests at the start of training camp and would ultimately be released from the team. Another Pro Bowl player, Anthony Spencer, would play just one game before moving to IR, while future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware would miss the first action of his career. The backups were not immune; reserve players Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass were stricken as well. Only Jason Hatcher, who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl for his efforts, delivered on the expectations the team had for him. The end result, in Jones words, was that the team was compromised.
"But injury is there for everybody and impacted everybody this year. And most clubs that I saw did a good job of handling the injury and compensating for it. I thought that we did a good job, but it was, relative to what we have to have – most teams do – but what we have to have in this scheme, this first-year scheme, when we were going in with Kiffin, we really needed a lot of pressure from that front seven and that front four, and we were compromised."
While compromised might not be the term many of us would choose, the fact remains that Dallas was decimated on the defensive line and someone had to answer for the choices that made the situation worse. In Mobile, that turned out to be the man who just a few months earlier had stated that the defense's greatest strength was in the trenches.