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Can Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae make an impact as rookies?

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With likely starters ahead of them on the depth chart, what can we expect from these two Cowboys rookies?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Utah at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the start of the offseason, it was evident that the Cowboys were going for a bit of a rebuild on the defensive line. Rod Marinelli was out and Jim Tomsula was in, and the two approaches to the defensive line couldn’t be more different.

Marinelli preferred undersized defensive tackles that could play a quick, one-gap penetration style of defense with defensive ends who are almost exclusively focused on rushing the passer. Tomsula, on the other hand, likes bigger bodies at all positions, and uses a high variance of two-gap and one-gap techniques, usually using both at the same time.

While it was obvious that DeMarcus Lawrence would still be the star of this defensive line, everything else changed. Maliek Collins left in free agency, as did Robert Quinn and Christian Covington; Michael Bennett seemingly had zero interest in returning, and while the Cowboys have the option to bring back Antwaun Woods, it seems they’re in no rush to do so.

But Dallas found a few likely starters on the defensive line to offset the losses. Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe are almost guaranteed to start at both tackle spots, barring injuries or something else extraordinary, and Tyrone Crawford is likely to at least play a lot of snaps at the right defensive end spot, if not starting outright. Plus, the hype is steadily growing around the recently reinstated Aldon Smith.

So where does that leave the team’s two draft picks, Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae? Both were considered good value selections, as Gallimore was considered a fringe first-round prospect before being taken in the third round, while Anae was commonly seen as an early/mid-third-round prospect who fell to Dallas in the fifth.

Gallimore is a big-bodied defensive tackle who got consistent penetration as a 1-technique in Oklahoma’s defense. While he didn’t rack up the sacks, he impacted the pocket effectively and helped anchor their defensive line. Gallimore drew praise in the pre-draft process for his tenacity in engaging with blockers, making him a candidate for two-gap work as well. While he’s not nearly as big as Poe, Gallimore has the size and strength to play multiple roles on the interior of the defensive line.

Anae, on the other hand, was an incredibly versatile edge rusher at Utah who piled up sacks over three years. Like most of the defensive players for Utah last year, Anae was described as a blue-collar grinder who was technically sound if a bit lacking in athleticism. Anae’s deep toolbox of pass rush moves and counters helped him make an impact in college, and the wide variety of ways he was used made him a fit for any defense.

Both players have plenty to offer the Cowboys, which is why they were celebrated as great picks when they were announced. But neither are exactly being pushed into a starting role right off the bat. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect to hear their names called.

One of the few similarities Tomsula has with Marinelli is his preference for keeping an active rotation along the defensive line. As Tomsula explains in this video from when he coached with the Redskins, he prefers to use all his available players to keep his top players fresh throughout the whole season and help his other players grow and develop.

It’s likely that this will result in both Gallimore and Anae seeing the field plenty. For Gallimore, he has the potential to fill in as relief for either McCoy or Poe. Gallimore’s penetrating style of play makes him a good fit for McCoy’s 3-technique role, while he also has the experience to fill Poe’s 1-technique and nose tackle roles. It’s likely that Gallimore could swap in for Poe on passing downs given his quicker profile and ability to better rush the passer.

As for Anae, he faces a more challenging proposition. The right defensive end spot is very much up for grabs. Crawford seems to have an inside track on it right now, but if Smith lives up to the hype he’ll easily command starter-level snaps - and his relationship with Tomsula from their days in San Francisco can’t hurt either.

There’s also Randy Gregory to contend with - assuming he’s reinstated - as well as Dorance Armstrong Jr., Joe Jackson, and Jalen Jelks. Suffice to say that Anae has a lot more competition than Gallimore. However, with no clear starter at the time, Anae also has arguably a better chance to earn playing time.

Perhaps the biggest factor going for Anae is his versatility. Aside from Smith and Crawford, the rest of Anae’s competitors were drafted specifically to fit into Marinelli’s defensive line. Technically Crawford was too, but he’s demonstrated a valuable ability to change positions repeatedly and still contribute. With Mike Nolan looking to create a multiple defense, Anae’s ability to play all over the place could give him a boost. Regardless, though, if Anae is on the active roster you can expect Tomsula to use him at least somewhat.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect either of these rookies to contribute on the level that CeeDee Lamb or Trevon Diggs (hopefully) will, at least in 2020, but that shouldn’t preclude them from having a role as a rotational player right away. The bar should still be low, but these rookies pass rushers aren’t just going to keep the bench warm.