On the Dallas Cowboys, trying to build a depth chart of the defensive line is a fool’s errand. But maybe that’s a good thing…
The Dallas Cowboys have an eventful few months ahead as they try to nail down positions and rotations for their defensive line. After churning the roster in typical fashion this offseason, the Cowboys now appear fully stocked. The only problem is, we aren’t quite sure where everyone fits.
For better or worse, the Dallas Cowboys don’t appear to be too sure either. Such is the case when you have a team devoid of established stars and loaded with versatile parts.
Position flex is an important trait in a Rod Marinelli defense. Whether you’re a cornerback capable of playing the boundary as well as the slot. A safety capable of playing centerfield or in the box. Or you’re a defensive linemen capable of playing 2-gap inside or 1-gap outside. Versatility is key if you want to make an impact in this system.
Just like the offensive line is striving to play the five best linemen at one time, the defensive line is searching for their best group as well.
Looking at the past few draft classes it’s easy to see that’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys are searching for too. Headlining the class this year is first round pick, Taco Charlton. Charlton, 6’6” 277lbs, is a mammoth of a man. His build alone says he’s a player capable of playing three positions along the line. His tape and aggressive attitude only seem to reinforce it.
The Dallas Cowboys have already said they invision Taco as the starting right defensive end (which is good because RDEs are in short supply around Dallas these days). But that doesn’t mean the case is closed. As every season under Rod Marinelli has taught us, no one on the defensive line is a fixture.
The 2017 Defensive Line
Looking through the roster and trying to slot positions and build a depth chart is a maddening endeavor. I realized this while attempting to do my first 53-man roster projection (posting Monday). Any number of players could play any number of positions on this line.
While Lawrence was drafted to be a right defensive end, numerous injures have likely robbed him of that role. But without a clear-cut answer on the weakside, no one is ruling the right side out if Lawrence proves capable.
Benson Mayowa , last season’s sack leader, started on the right but since moved to the left. Exactly where he fits best is unknown and he’ll probably be given a chance to compete at both spots in training camp.
Charles Tapper, last season’s red-shirt linemen, looked great in limited action last offseason so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Tapper could play either side as well. Frankly, with so little seen of him, we just have no idea what to expect from the 2016 fourth round pick.
Demontre Moore was brought in through free agency. After a bumpy pro career, Moore is given the opportunity to finally get his career on track and maybe even realize some of that potential along the way. At 6’5” 250lbs, Moore projects best as a RDE, but as a rotational player, LDE is certainly possible as well.
To make matters even more murky is that any of these players could move inside in the nickel.
Inside, the Dallas Cowboys return second-year standout, Maliek Collins. Collins, 6’2” 305lbs, plays with a low enough base to 2-gap at the 1-technique and enough explosion and technique to be a threat at the 3-technique. He’ll likely get first crack at the 3, but snaps at the 1-technique are not out of question.
Tyrone Crawford is a man of no (all?) position. The former DE, turned DT, turned back DE, can play LDE or 3-technique. The Cowboys have been unable to find a permanent home for their highest paid linemen this far into his five year career, so it’s unlikely they will find a permanent place this season as well.
More from Dallas Cowboys
- West coast, Texas coast, burnt toast: Cowboys don’t need more runs
- Brandin Cooks will change the way defenses play the Dallas Cowboys
- Why the Dallas Cowboys defensive X-Factor is EDGE Sam Williams
- Dallas Cowboys: 3 head coach options if McCarthy fails in 2023
- Dallas Cowboys: Is CB Jourdan Lewis a tradeable asset?
Joining Crawford as an inside/outside extraordinaire is David Irving. Irving, 6’7” 273lbs is similar to rookie Taco Charlton in many ways. Blessed with the longest wingspan in the NFL, Irving is a mismatch everywhere on the field. In the past Rod Marinelli has moved him around from end to inside in order to exploit those mismatches. Watching Irving play, I’d even argue he has the ability to be a force on the hard-to-fill right edge of the line.
Both of those fellas are limited to the 1-technique and as such, one may not make the final roster cut if either of the rookies, Jordan Carrell or Joey Ivie, impresses in training camp.
Why this is a good thing
While all of this flex, and subsequent “unknown” ,is a nightmare for people like you and I, it affords the Dallas Cowboys a priceless opportunity – play the best players as much as possible. Just like the offensive line is striving to play the five best linemen at one time, the defensive line is searching for their best group as well.
Everyone knows Rod Marinelli is going to rotate his orphan rushmen in throughout the game, but the versatility of all of these chaps, allows him to play his very best linemen as often as possible. David Irving and Tyrone Crawford in particular project as two of the top-four linemen in 2017. Their position flex allows Rod Marinelli to get them on the field without sacrificing snaps for other top players (whoever they may prove to be).
Expect to see a ton of movement across the defensive line throughout minicamps and especially in training camp. Finding the right order and perfect combination will be the top objective for Rod Marinelli this summer. And having all of these moveable parts makes it all possible.
It’s the overall disorder of the defensive line that benefits the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. Together with a deep rotation the Cowboys should be able to improve on their middle-of-the-pack sack numbers from last (36) and move deeper into the postseason as a result.