As far as the Cowboys' pass rush in 2016 is concerned, it's concerning to everyone at this point even after the draft and first wave of free agency are in the rear-view mirror. Because of suspensions, the Cowboys will likely start the season with a mixed bag of hopefuls along the line. Guys that have this trait or that just looking for their chance to make an impact until the two biggest names in Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence return. However, looking at the allocated resources of this offseason, the pressure is on, but it's on the defensive tackles.
The Rod Marinelli defense has always been predicated on getting pressure but especially pressure from the 3-tech defensive tackle position. The Cowboys have spent some decent resources on the defensive tackle position both in free agency, the draft, and undrafted free agent pool. Let's do a quick review of the tackles.
Cedric Thornton, 1-Tech
This is clearly my favorite move of the offseason because I've practically been lamenting about it for as long as Nick Hayden was on the roster. Thornton is the athletic tackle that they've always wanted but was hesitant to pull the trigger on. What you get with him is not only a guy that gives you a run-stuffer in the middle but a guy who is strong enough to take on the double team and free up the three-technique. Thornton also has position flexibility just like most of these defensive linemen, but he's going to give the Cowboys an added dimension in the middle.
Dallas can also use Terrell McClain in a backup role to Thornton as they have similar skill sets as far as athleticism is concerned. Thornton may not take up space in the headlines of moves made this free agency, but he'll take up space on game day and make an immediate impact.
Tyrone Crawford, 3-Tech
Nobody was more excited about the aforementioned Thornton signing than Crawford. He played most of the year with a bum shoulder and now he's going to see a lot of pressure riding on him this upcoming season. Seeing as how Crawford basically played so well at the position that they decided Henry Melton was expendable, they shouldn't move him back to defensive end, even if it's just for a few weeks. We hear all the time about position flex, but let the player do what he does best. Tyrone Crawford is a classic penetrating 3-technique tackle. Let him stay where he's at. It reminds me of when Jimmy Johnson would say "don't be cute, just be good."
The Cowboys need to avoid getting cute and let the good players do what they are designed to do. Crawford has finally found a role at the three and it makes virtually no sense to render him ineffective. That's basically what he was as a defensive end. Let the younger guys like David Irving or Benson Mayowa get a crack at edge rusher.
Maliek Collins, 3-Tech
When the owner and general manager says that he views you as a "cornerstone player", there is going to be some pressure that comes with that. Though we all love the measurables of Charles Tapper at right defensive end, it's Collins that will likely get more playing time. With Tyrone Crawford splitting some time on the edge, Collins will be relied upon to get some pressure early in the season. Marinelli is trying to create that perfect eight-man rotation and Collins will factor into that rather quickly. They really liked Collins and believe that he fits their defense perfectly. His opportunity has arrived. Though rookies don't typically have incredible impacts, the Cowboys hope that Collins can buck the trend.
Terrell McClain, 1-Tech
McClain is in his final year with the Cowboys in a stint that has left more to be desired. However, anytime he played, you could tell the difference. He's had impressive performances for the Cowboys because you can see that he's not the limited player that Hayden was. The problem with McClain is he's almost always dinged up. They hope that in his final year with the club, he can fight off the injury bug because what a combination it would be to have him and Thornton as your two top 1-techs? The pressure is on him this offseason to remain healthy because if not, some other younger talent like Casey Walker could be waiting to snag his spot.
Jack Crawford - He'll likely start out on the line at the left defensive end spot due the need in the position. Still, the Cowboys think very highly of him and he's shown that he can be productive all along the defensive line in a pinch.
Rodney Coe- Anytime the COO says he's excited about your potential and mentions you by name, you have a really good shot at a roster spot. Coe is a disruptive presence in the middle and really impressed the coaches and scouts with his motor and work at Akron. He's a wildcard that could make an early impact and the Cowboys were thrilled to get him as an undrafted free agent.
Looking at what the Cowboys have done in the offseason, their defensive tackles actually look to be a formidable bunch. In a classic Marinelli scheme, it's the tackles that do all the work. Maybe the Cowboys feel a little better than we all do about their situation because of the talent they have acquired at defensive tackle. One thing is certain, the tackles will be leaned on heavily this year to eat up the offensive linemen and give their edge rushers the opportunity to play clean up duty.
In this ever-evolving passing league, it's important to disrupt the quarterback's ability to function. One sure-fire way of being able to do that could be collapsing the pocket. If you can push some offensive linemen into the laps of the quarterbacks, it's not very likely that they'll find too much success. The Cowboys are banking that they'll get penetrating pressure up the middle, here's to hoping they are right.