The Dallas Cowboys defense has been a lightning rod for this team over the last few years. Where the offense has been able to grow and become one of the more dangerous units in the league, when healthy, the defense has gone through waves of success and failures far too often. With defensive coordinator Dan Quinn at the helm, and bringing with him a defensive scheme similar to what we saw during this defense's better year under Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli, there is more optimism around this unit. The Cowboys are going to be heading to training camp and Quinn is going to be on the lookout for players he believes will be able to get this defense back on track.
He will also be looking to light fires under players who’ve been on this roster for a few seasons now and haven’t lived up to the Cowboys expectations. There are so many things that can happen from now until the end of the season, so here are a few predictions for this new Cowboys defense.
Donovan Wilson emerges as a top safety?
Last season when Wilson was given the chances to start he was able to create turnovers and dish out big hits on players making an immediate impact in the Cowboys secondary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Wilson make plays, during his rookie season in the preseason he was able to make plays around the football and Kris Richard was one of his bigger fans during his time on the team. With this being Wilson’s time to shine can he continue to make plays for this defense and be the enforcer and opportunist that we’ve seen or will he take a step back?
You should expect to see Wilson take a big step forward this season. He’s a smart player that is going to be used to dish out punishment in the middle of the field. He’s also fast enough to be able to cover well and make plays on the football. Look for Wilson to lead the secondary in tackles and possibly interceptions.
Randy Gregory leads the team in sacks?
In a season where the Cowboys pass rush started off with a bang, it ended with little pass rush to be found. One exception was the returning Randy Gregory who was able to continue to get pressure for this Cowboys defense, or it may have looked even worse down the stretch. This season Gregory has a full offseason of training under his belt and if we are to believe that last season was as good as he could be after not playing football for a few years, with this amount of training with the team he should be even better. The downside for him is that now teams are going to be better prepared to deal with him, and that should give DeMarcus Lawrence more chances to get to the quarterback.
Expect Gregory to be close to Lawrence in sacks, but Lawrence will still be this team's sack leader at the end of the season. Thanks in part to Gregory’s ability to pressure the quarterback and force him into the waiting arms of Lawrence.
Run defense continues to struggle?
The Cowboys Achilles heel on defense last season was their run defense. Whenever they are able to stop teams through the air (which wasn’t often), offenses were able to exploit the run defense to keep the chains moving. The Cowboys, in an effort to fix the problem, have thrown a lot more bodies this offseason at the defensive tackle position. Will this work for them? Possibly, but they will be expecting rookies to be a big part of that turnaround and that’s not something you see every day in the NFL.
Expect the Cowboys run defense to struggle in part due to their experience upfront and still using cast-offs from other teams to fix their problems instead of really spending money to fix the defensive tackle spot.