When the offseason began, the Cowboys' brass knew very well what their objective should be. In fact, they practically told everyone prior to the draft exactly what they were going to do. It began with the defense and early in camp that's exactly what everyone is talking about.
In the NFL, the Cowboys aren't inclined to sneak up on anybody, but none of the major outlets have touched on what this defense could actually be in 2015. To look ahead, we must first have to take a step back. The 2014 Cowboys' pass rush was atrocious as was displayed in the divisional round. This, of course, was the game where a one-legged Aaron Rodgers was picking apart the defense with virtually no pressure. So naturally, Dallas had to figure something out in order to try and bring a Lombardi Trophy home in the near future.
The Cowboys already have an elite offense but the focus this offseason has been to create the same results on the defensive side of the ball. To build a sustainable winner in this league, it's what has to be done. The Cowboys knew that with such prolific passers in this league, being 28th in the sacks department just won't cut the mustard. So what did they do?
Well, it started with the offseason development of second-year player DeMarcus Lawrence. After the way he finished last season, the coaches and trainers had to keep him building. To see him now with his transformed physique, he has the necessary strength and repertoire to start building that pass rushing resume. He's got the job at left end locked down, and these coaches expect a big year from him.
However, the focus can't solely be on one guy, especially in Rod Marinelli's rotation-friendly defense. So Stephen Jones took a chance on the troubled but sensational 4-3 end, Greg Hardy. He's been the talk of training camp. Hardy's response to a minor rib strain was "I don't get hurt, I'm invincible." That's the type of tone-setting attitude that Marinelli certainly appreciates and he said so himself in Oxnard to a few reporters.
"Everything he does is full-speed. He practices at game speed every second," said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. "We did a solid job of that last year, getting guys playing really hard. It just keeps elevating when you have guys like that, that really want to play hard."
Hardy gives the Dallas Cowboys a chance to get better very quickly. Anytime you can add a player of his caliber while also remaining young and developing on the defensive line; chances are things are moving in the right direction. Even with the acquisition of Hardy and the second-year developing of Lawrence, the Cowboys were not finished. Dallas also spent two draft picks on the defensive line, two on linebackers and grabbed perhaps the draft's most athletic cornerback who can also play safety. They have a developing young three-tech in Tyrone Crawford, who is looking to light up the stat sheet this season. They have the hard-nosed lunch-pail guys like Nick Hayden, Jeremy Mincey, Ben Gardner, and Jack Crawford to add to the mixture.
Corner was a pretty big need and the Cowboys were in love with Byron Jones. Everything he does, his work ethic, his practice style and life choices both on and off the field just screamed Jason Garrett. Dallas will now put this 'freakish' athlete to the test against perhaps the league's best receiver to learn from. Randy Gregory was a top ten talent that fell due to concerns about his maturity. Now, he joins a stacked defensive line with the potential to grow into something special under the right tutelage.
Damien Wilson was drafted in the fourth round and Mark Nzeocha in the seventh as they look to play special teams but learn behind guys like Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, and Rolando McClain. It's no wonder why Hitchens was speaking to the media today about becoming a top flight defense.
It's interesting to note that with all these additions, nobody seems to talk about what this team may be on the verge of becoming. They were a middle of the road defense last season overall but managed to hang in there long enough to win a playoff game. This team looks poised to do some really great things this season with improvements on the defensive side of the ball.
The diligence in which the Cowboys used to build their offense into a talented, young juggernaut is the exact approach they have taken with a unit that just a few seasons ago was aging fast. If the Dallas Cowboys are going to take the leap that many believe they are capable of, their defense is going to have to make huge strides. With the approach they have taken thus far, it's not inconceivable to think this unit can't crack the top ten or better. With veteran leadership in Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Jeremy Mincey and others; it's going to be an exciting year to watch this defense take the field.