This is the start of a series that will look at various training camp battles leading up to the Cowboys’ arrival in Oxnard.
The 2019 Dallas Cowboys season is right around the corner, you can almost smell it in the air. Soon enough, we will be discussing the progress that Dak Prescott has made with his mechanics, a training camp with Amari Cooper, and the growth of the defense.
One of the more interesting training camp battles that will occur is on the defensive line. The Cowboys were successful in locking up franchise pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal. Dallas also made a sneaky big move by trading for former Rams and Dolphins end Robert Quinn.
But, the Cowboys cannot just rely on those two. Lawrence is recovering from offseason labrum surgery while Quinn will need to learn the defense and become familiar with what Rod Marinelli is asking him to do.
That brings us to Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong.
Charlton, a first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and Armstrong, a fourth-round pick in 2018, are two defensive linemen attempting to carve out a consistent role in this defense. Charlton comes with the higher profile thanks to playing for Michigan and hearing his name called as the 28th selection of his draft class, but he has struggled during his young career.
The Michigan product has shown glimpses of taking that next step, but he has failed to put it all together consistently. Charlton has made 46 tackles, 8 TFLs, 11 QB hits, and four sacks over his first two seasons in the NFL.
Been going through some old #Cowboys games the last 2 days & I'm impressed with Taco Charlton's improvement.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) May 1, 2018
Here he does an excellent job of using a long arm to generate pressure. Excellent hand timing & placement as he churns his feet. Nice eye discipline as well. pic.twitter.com/y1rCleYiQq
Charlton has been in the dog house at different times with the Cowboys, for both his play and for his attitude. The Cowboys have had a lot of success hitting on their first-round selections, but the team needs its 2017 choice to make the jump in his development.
Armstrong, meanwhile, has had his moments of strong play with the Cowboys. The Houston native had a breakout season with the Kansas Jayhawks in 2016, earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. A change in scheme and different responsibilities caused Armstrong’s production to fall off in 2017, but the Cowboys still saw enough potential to grab him with the 116th pick.
Nice little rush here from Dorance Armstrong. He's got some bend to him. pic.twitter.com/NKIyPU7nEK— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 23, 2018
The North Shore Senior High School alum made 13 tackles, three QB hits, and was credited with 0.5 sacks in limited action during his rookie season with the Cowboys. Marinelli spoke highly of Armstrong and his development last month, saying “he’s really showing up in this camp”:
“He’s climbing right now. You’ve probably seen him a little bit, but his speed is coming,” he said. “I just think once you’re in the second year in that system, it really starts kicking in. He’s got a really good long arm, working that as a pass rush move. He’s really showing up in this camp.”
Like Marinelli said, Armstrong definitely has long arms — measuring in with 34 3⁄4” arms, 88th percentile, and an 83” wingspan, good for 93rd percentile, at the 2018 NFL Combine. In fact, Armstrong’s measurements compare favorably to another defensive lineman on the roster:
In terms of athleticism and production, Dorance Armstrong is VERY similar to DeMarcus Lawrence. pic.twitter.com/WTjYaZysCl— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 28, 2018
Obviously, Lawrence is one of the elite at his position while Armstrong is still trying to find himself, but it is worth noting that Marinelli and company have had success with a similar profile player.
Dallas brought in Kerry Hyder and drafted Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson, but the Cowboys desperately need somebody to step up and provide quality snaps behind Lawrence, Quinn, and Tyrone Crawford — especially with the unknown status of Randy Gregory. Charlton and Armstrong appear to be the two battling for that fourth defensive end spot.
Whoever wins this positional battle could very well have a big impact on how good the Cowboys defense is 2019. Many believe the unit will only get better after a strong 2018, but depth on the defensive line is needed badly.