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Can You Name The Cowboys Starting Four Defensive Linemen?

The Cowboys have a lot of players to choose from when it comes to their defensive line, but which four players will make the starting lineup?

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of questions when it comes to the arrangement of their defensive line in 2016. With free agent acquisitions, draft picks, and second-year players hoping to take a step forward, Rod Marinelli will have a lot of players to choose from. It's anyone's guess as to which players will emerge as the guys who start the game in the trenches, but today -€” that anyone is you. Can you name the team's starting front four?

Now there are a couple suspensions happening in the early part of the season with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory sitting out a few games, so that throws a wrench into this little exercise because neither of those players will be available in week one. To remedy this problem, there is one stipulation to this scenario that you must take into consideration. You must make your selections based on who you believe will be the four starting "Rushmen" when the Cowboys play their first playoff game of the 2016 season. You have the freedom to guess who you think will be healthy. You have the freedom to guess who you think will be suspended. And you have the freedom to guess who you think will be running hot towards the end of the season. Do with it as you please, just know that you have the entire roster to work with when making your decision.

The Locks

Tyrone Crawford

I hear a lot of groaning when it comes to Crawford. I think there are two reasons for that. First, the Cowboys gave him a five-year, $45 million deal, which makes him the fifth-highest player paid on the team, right next to the overpriced Brandon Carr. So, like Carr, the expectations are high. When you get paid that kind of money, you want him to show up in the stat book. And that's the second part -€” his contributions are hidden. Crawford doesn't rack up the sacks, but he's one of those players whose efforts make a real difference on the field. Last year, he played with an injured shoulder so he wasn't able to make as much of an impact on defense. But rest assured, this guy gets it done. He's healthy now and he'll be joining a DT partner that is going to provide more push than he's had over the last two seasons with Nick Hayden.

DeMarcus Lawrence

This guy has me baffled. There are times where I am watching tape and he looks so impressive darting through the blockers. He's bulked up and now has the size and speed to get himself into the backfield on a regular bases. After fracturing his foot in training camp his rookie season, Lawrence only played in seven games in 2014. He did not record a sack in the regular season, but make his presences felt in the playoffs, sacking Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. He would have a solid sophomore season last year, with eight sacks and 55 tackles, but he had a strong finish as seven of those sacks came in the final eight games. He also tackled Alfred Morris in the end zone for a safety in the season finale. Lawrence was another player that kept changing the direction of the play.

While he's always been so full of promise, he now faces a couple obstacles in his way. First off, there is no Greg Hardy on the other side of him. Say what you want about Hardy, but he was a fierce pass rusher and his power along the line will be missed. Next, Lawrence is coming off of back surgery, so how much will that affect his ability to rush the quarterback this season. The Cowboys will ease him into practice when training camp begins next month, but he's a guy they will be counting on to lead the attack on the edge. And finally, there's the looming suspension. Will it be the full four games? Is Lawrence a guy that could suddenly be unavailable to the team on a whim? These are concerns. The Cowboys hope to have a good structure in place to where some of these young wild-card players can optimize their potential. Maybe, with Hardy not asked back, the team can right the ship with the right kind of atmosphere for their young pass rushers.

The New Guy

Cedric Thornton

If there has been one thing most Cowboys fans have agreed on this off-season, it's that we all love the free agent signing of Cedric Thornton. For years it felt like the team was just drawing names out of a hat when it came to selecting their starting 1-tech defensive tackle. And for some reason, lady luck came falling upon Nick Hayden. But that is no more. The Cowboys have themselves a good run-stopping defensive tackle and he's going to pay immediate dividends for the team.

It's easy to pick apart all the things the Philadelphia Eagles do wrong, but the play of their defensive line isn't one of them. With players like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin, Bennie Logan, and Vinny Curry -€” the Eagles defensive line group is stacked. The Cowboys were able to benefit from this overload as the Eagles only have so many ridiculous contracts to go around. Dallas signed Thornton to a respectable four-year, $17 million deal.

The Final Spot

The first three were relatively easy. Most fans will have those guys penciled into the lineup. Rookie, Maliek Collins and veteran Terrell McClain both have the ability to challenge for some real playing time if the stars align right for them, but Thornton has the advantage at the moment.

The real competition comes from that final defensive end spot. I would be excited about this battle if it wasn't for how critical it is to have a quality player at this position. Excitement has been replaced by worry. But this feeling has a chance to go away if a player can start generating some buzz in training camp. There are quite a few candidates, but who will be the guy?

Before I get to my selection, here are some players in the running for that last spot.

Randy Gregory -€” no player has a bigger upside than Gregory. He had flashes of great play in the preseason last year (3 sacks), but a high-ankle sprain killed the momentum. His chronic substance abuse issues makes him a complete wild card. Coaches won't give him his chances unless he shows he belongs. He'll get his snaps on pass rushing downs, but until he can be a consistent performer, look for him to ride the bench.

Benson Mayowa -€” the Cowboys signed the Oakland reserve pass rusher to a three-year, $8.25 million deal this off-season. They didn't bring him over for decoration. They see something in him and he'll get a chance to make plays.

Charles Tapper -€” expectations are usually lessened for a rookie DE, especially one taken in the fourth round. He's got a lot of work to do to earn snaps, but his ability to play the run well could get his number called in early down situations.

Ryan Russell -€” and then there's the forgotten one. The Cowboys 2014 fifth-round pick spent the majority of his rookie season inactive on game day. Russell was raw and wasn't used correctly at Purdue. He'll have a clean slate and plenty of chances to show what he can add to the group.

And the winner is...

David Irving

When your defensive line group finally breaks the seal on showing the world that they have talent, there is always one player that nobody has heard of that breaks out. Irving can be that player. The 22-year old has great athleticism and showed up on tape several times last season. Despite playing inside at defensive tackle, he's got the speed to play on the edge. The Cowboys have nice depth at DT now and Irving is too talented to be buried on the depth chart. He'll have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills on the edge with the team being suspect at defensive end. He shows great thrust and can attack the run well, which makes him a good candidate for being a two-down player, but don't sleep on his pass rushing skills. Despite playing only 205 snaps last year, he still managed to have 16 quarterback hurries. Irving gave us all a glimpse of his talent last year, but look for him to break out on the scene this season.

Who do you have as the Cowboys starting front four?

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