While we wait for training camp to get underway, we’re taking a look at all the position groups for the Dallas Cowboys, with the focus on whether the team was successful in improving during the offseason. You can find the links for the earlier parts of this series at the end of this one. We continue today with the defensive tackles.
The Cowboys start out with a somewhat underrated pair of starters, Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods. Collins has struggled with injuries, but even when playing on a bad foot, he has been very good at the 3-tech. So far, he is healthy (as I type this I am knocking ferociously on the wooden armrest of my chair). If he can avoid injury, he could have a breakout year. Until the players got worn down late in the season, the pressure up the middle of the line was good, and running backs were not finding much success, either.
Woods already had his breakout last season, going from an unheralded free agent pickup in May to the starting 1-tech for the Cowboys, where he had an excellent season. He possesses remarkable quickness for a big man, which makes him right at home in Rod Marinelli’s attacking style of defensive line play.
Tyrone Crawford is considered the backup 3T for the team, but he also is depth at DE as well. He can also work from the 1T on passing downs.
Daniel Ross backs up Woods. He was reasonably capable in that role last season.
Still, the depth issues that hurt the ends also apply here. As the wear accumulated, this unit became less effective. The problems really surfaced in the embarrassing defeat by the Indianapolis Colts, and culminated in the equaling humbling showing in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Tackles are key in stopping the running game. Against the Colts and Rams, they stopped nothing.
So, as they did with ends, the Cowboys used a variety of avenues to address the depth. First, they picked up free agent Christian Covington. The team believes that he was misused in the 3-4 scheme while he was with the Houston Texans, much the way they saw Kerry Hyder playing in the wrong place when the Detroit Lions moved him from DE to DT, also in a 3-4. Covington seems much better suited as a Marinelli 1T. While it is hard to tell with only some non-contact reps to observe, he may be a player that is being badly overlooked.
The biggest investment was taking Trysten Hill in the second round of the draft. That was the first pick the Cowboys had after the successful investment of their first-rounder in Amari Cooper. Using it on Hill reflects the priority the team put on upgrading the 3T depth. It was something of a departure for a team that has not spent much in the way of draft capital on DTs in recent years besides Collins in the third round. With Collins on the roster, Hill does not have to come in and be the starter right off the bat. He can contribute as a rotational player, and if he progresses as the team hopes, they have options when Collins’ contract expires after this season. Most importantly is that Hill was drafted due to his speed and explosiveness. He is another player who fits very well in the Marinelli model.
Dallas also signed UDFAs Daniel Wise and Ricky Walker, and reports are that they are particularly intrigued by Wise. As usual, we can expect Collins, Woods, and Crawford to see very limited work in the preseason games, which will give the newer faces (and Ross) plenty of opportunities to show the staff what they have.
The DT situation looks noticeably better now than it did at the end of the year when the team was working with a rotation of Collins, Woods, Ross, and Caraun Reid. They also had David Irving on the roster, but he had pretty much checked out by then. With the material they have to work with, they should field a much stronger rotation in the interior of the line. Add in the added depth at DE discussed in the last installment of this series, and the line as a whole could be one that terrorizes quarterbacks and runners alike.
Chalk this up as another place the team got stronger and better. If you have been following this series, you will note that every position so far fits that description. Things are about to take a turn as we move back in the defensive lineup. But don’t get too disheartened, because the news there is not all bad, and in the next chapter, it actually is very good indeed.
Here are the links to the earlier parts of this series.