For the better part of two decades, the Cowboys have routinely sent out fairly undersized defensive linemen, whether it was Jay Ratliff playing nose tackle in Wade Phillips’ scheme or a bevvy of smaller, yet quicker, penetration players in Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 scheme. One of the first priorities under Mike McCarthy was shifting that trend, which they attempted to complete by signing the hulking Dontari Poe and drafting the hefty Neville Gallimore.
Poe didn’t work out, though Gallimore showed some promise as a rookie. Entering the 2021 NFL Draft, that still left Dallas wanting for a big, run-stuffing presence inside. That led to the selection of Kentucky interior defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna in the sixth round. Bohanna played in college at a listed 360 pounds, but he slimmed down to 325 pounds ahead of the combine.
In other words, he got into better shape without sacrificing his massive frame, and finally giving Dallas a young, space-eater in the middle again. But what can the Cowboys expect from Bohanna heading into his second year in the league?
What He’s Done
Bohanna’s role as a rookie was pretty clearly defined from an early stage, and it didn’t really evolve much throughout the year. With his size and particular set of skills, Bohanna profiled as an early-down run defender and that was pretty much it.
Not surprisingly, Bohanna’s usage reflected this. On the year, he played on 24% of all defensive snaps, but his snap count varied from game to game based on the matchups. For example, against the run-heavy Eagles and Washington Football Team, Bohanna played on roughly 40% of the defensive snaps while his snaps share dropped to 10% against more pass-happy teams like the Chiefs and Raiders; Bohanna didn’t even see the field against the Cardinals, despite being active, which reflects just how often the Cardinals were airing things out.
All in all, Bohanna had a very clearly defined - and fairly niche - role that he adequately filled. Due to the nature of his role - which involves a lot of space-eating, two-gapping, and general redirection of the offense - Bohanna didn’t pile up a lot of stats; he finished the year with just 10 tackles and a pressure. That’s not to suggest Bohanna didn’t make an impact, though, as he just about met expectations for his rookie year.
What He Can Do
Bohanna was a pretty consistent performer in 2021, but the Cowboys defense still struggled mightily against the run. It was an Achilles heel for an otherwise potent unit, and it reared its head at the worst possible time: in the playoffs against the run-heavy 49ers. It should also be noted that Bohanna didn’t suit up in that game.
The next step for him, aside from general player development trends, is expanding his range of use. Too often were the Cowboys taking Bohanna out to sub in defenders that could offer more reliable pass rush and then watching those defenders get driven back on run plays. If he can refine the other areas of his game a bit more, he could see more snaps and thus offer more contributions against the run.
Bohanna also is no longer alone as a big boy in the trenches. The Cowboys just drafted Arkansas nose tackle John Ridgeway, who has a very similar player profile to Bohanna. The likely thinking here is that Dallas wants to have two space eaters as opposed to just one, but this could potentially cut into Bohanna’s path to more snaps.
It’s also possible that Dan Quinn envisions a deployment of both Bohanna and Ridgeway to provide the most possible beef up front in an effort to shore up a run defense that was porous way too often last year. There’s no guarantee how Ridgeway will perform right away as a rookie, but Bohanna has the chance to play a large role in the run defense development with his play this year.