For NFL offenses and defenses both, the lines are often where things succeed or fall apart. The ability to protect the quarterback and open the running lanes can be more important than the skill players, and it is the defensive line that has to stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback. The big guys up front may not get much of the glory, but they are key to winning or losing. Based on what we have seen so far from the Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, the team seems to be in very good shape on one side of the ball. But on the other, there could be some rough times ahead.
Let’s start with the bad news. All during the offseason, fixing the issues on the offensive line was seen as one of the most important tasks facing the team. They had a hole at left guard caused by the departure of Connor Williams and made the decision to roll with Terence Steele at right tackle, releasing La’el Collins. Steele’s promotion also left them with a need for a good swing tackle. They made one big move to address this, taking Tyler Smith in the first round with the intention of plugging that guard spot. They also took Matt Waletzko in the fifth to try and add some depth at tackle. However, those were the only things they did. As we are all aware, they were very quiet in free agency.
We discussed this idea in greater detail on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
They still have not gone there to try and improve things, which is probably more important for tackle depth than at guard, where Connor McGovern at least has some experience to serve as a backup. Smith is demonstrating all the traits you want along with some real strength and tenacity. But as should be expected, he also has some rookie ups and downs.
Meanwhile, Steele has been getting roughed up a bit by the likes of Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence. That is something plenty of other NFL OTs will likely suffer, so it may be a bit early to go into panic mode. It still leads to some nerves.
At backup tackle, things have gone worse. Waletzko has been lost for at least some time to a shoulder injury. That has left Josh Ball as the main hope to back up things, and he has had a worse showing than Steele. The only other sign of even moderate hope has been Isaac Alarcón, who has been getting worked almost exclusively at tackle. Given that earlier he was being looked at quite a bit as a guard, it seems to be a response to the Waletzko injury.
In any case, this is not great news. Smith can be expected to have some growing pains, and if they have to start McGovern at the beginning of the season, that is more unnerving. McGovern could not hold down the starting job last year when he came in following some bad penalty games for Williams. He has not shown any great improvement in camp.
Meanwhile, NFL teams are increasingly bring pressure from their left side, which makes Steele a real concern. Dak Prescott has to be given some time to make his reads, although the return of his mobility might help alleviate that to an extent. Still, it is not great to have him having to make passes while avoiding large human beings seeking to throw him to the ground. The Cowboys have also stressed that the running game is going to be important this year. That may be even more dependent on the blocking. No matter how good Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard may look, they are not going to find success when they are being met behind the line of scrimmage because the blocking fails.
The longer this takes to work this out, the harder it will be for Dallas to get to the playoffs, much less advance. This uncertainty could put everything in jeopardy.
It is an entirely different picture for the defensive line. As mentioned, Parsons and Lawrence both look great. Parsons is technically a linebacker, but is used to best effect joining in the pass rush. Now the team has added Anthony Barr, who Dan Quinn seems to be planning to use in much the same way. That adds a couple of extra players to the mix without necessarily counting against the number of D line spots on the roster.
Even so, there may be more quality linemen than the team can find room for. During the latest episode of Ryled Up, Roy White and I were joined by Jeff Cavanaugh who spent ten days at camp. He said that a lot of players besides Lawrence are looking good, including Dante Fowler and Sam Williams. Dorance Armstrong is currently penciled in to start at RDE, and they also have Tarell Basham back. He dropped a bit of knowledge on us in revealing that Chauncey Golston, nominally part of the DE group, has been working exclusively at DT, where added weight and strength seem to be paying dividends. Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa, the starters from the end of last season, are having good camps, and Trysten Hill also has been having some very good reps while Carlos Watkins appears solid. Rookie John Ridgeway is on board to challenge Quinton Bohanna for the nose tackle role when the defense seeks to deploy one.
That is eleven names for the defensive line exclusive of Parsons and Barr. Obviously something has to give. One suggestion comes from Clarence Hill.
Don't be surprised if the Cowboys use Trysten Hill as trade bait for the start of the season. He is having a good camp.— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) August 9, 2022
That may be pure speculation, but it could eventually help them with another problem. Perhaps even on the offensive line. Hill could be offered up for a player that is overly blessed with offensive line strength, particularly at tackle. Two birds, one stone.
In any case, the defensive line is one of the best components of the team. It is hard to even see a weakness on that side of things, with a very strong secondary and LB Leighton Vander Esch making some noise as he tries to revive his reputation. The matchups in the trenches seem to really favor the Cowboys defense. On offense, unfortunately, we are left having to hold our breath to see what develops.