Fresh on the heels of the NFL Draft, the Cowboys have already been talking about their newly rebuilt defensive line. Clearly, the real details will be worked out in training camp but it’s not too early to start slotting and speculating now.
In the press conference proceeding the 2nd day of the draft, Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett shared some of their plans heading into the new season. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has been heavily involved in personnel changes and has built a decent rotation to work with.
Right Defensive End
The drafting of Demarcus Lawrence clearly means they feel they have their starting right defensive end. Lawrence has special pass-rush skills that set him apart from others in the draft. Those same special traits are why the Cowboys moved up in the second round to pick the Boise State edge rusher.
For more on the drafting of Demarcus Lawrence read Demarcus Lawrence: A Player the Cowboys Needed. In it Jerry, Stephen, and Garrett explain the thought process as to why the Cowboys needed to have Lawrence and why they gave up so much to get him.
The free agent signing of former Chicago Bear (and Rod Marinelli protégé) Henry Melton immediately filled the role of the 3-technique DT. Melton has previous success as a Marinelli 3-Tech and if fully recovered from knee surgery, should have no problem stepping back into that role in Dallas.
This is where it starts to get interesting. Without a truly proven 1-technique tackle on the roster, the Cowboys will likely go to a rotation. Free agent signing, Terrell McClain, 6’2” 293lbs., figures to be in the rotation. Ben Bass, 6’4” 294 lbs. should also be in a 1-Technique rotation if he doesn’t win the job outright. He looked strong in training camp last season and has some atypical athletic ability too.
Finally 7th round draft pick Ken Bishop, the stoutest of the three, could surprise some in training camp and earn a spot in the rotation. Bishop was a strong and effective gap-filler in collage and could do the same in the NFL.
Left Defensive End
Left End is another position battle to watch this preseason as Anthony Spencer looks to return from injury and lay claim to the position once again. After Spencer was lost last season he was replaced with journeyman George Selvie. Selvie quickly endeared himself to Cowboys fans by flashing big plays from the moment he arrived. Spencer and Selvie could very well battle it out for the LE spot or form a rotation of their own.
The dark horse in this whole thing is Tyrone Crawford. If he stays healthy, Crawford figures to get significant playing time somewhere on this defensive line. Exactly where remains to be seen.
Said Head Coach Jason Garrett,
We’ve had a lot of discussion about where Tyrone is going to be for us and we’ll continue those discussions as we put a depth chart together and see where we want him to start. One of the great traits that Tyrone has is his versatility. We feel like he can play outside or inside, and we’ll continue to use him in that way.
What one can gain from that quote is that the Cowboys have starting caliber expectations for Crawford but he could very well be playing multiple positions in 2014. Crawford personally prefers the end but it’s hard not to see him doing his best as a 3-technique tackle in this defense.
Crawford could see himself at an end position on early downs and moved inside as a “rushman” on passing downs when Dallas lines up in nickel defense and dumps their 1-technique tackle.
In addition, Demarcus Lawrence may not be a 3-down player early on. Jason Garrett had this to say about Lawrence,
We see him [Lawrence] as a 2nd and 3rd down pass rusher on day one…We see him as an eventual starter at that position.
Perhaps Spencer, Selvie, and Crawford could figure into a rotation at both end spots on early downs, and then on passing downs load up with 4 rushmen. The nickel package would likely be Crawford and Melton on the inside, with Lawrence and Spencer on the outside. But with Selvie’s success last season, he could possibly bump Spencer from even that.
We haven’t even looked how DEs Gardner and Mincey will fit into the rotation either. It’s hard to say how it will all shake out, but what’s clear is this is going to be one giant open competition and Rod Marinelli is going to make sure the best players play, regardless of position.
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