Position flex has made predicting the Dallas Cowboys starting defensive line a difficult endeavor, yet here is a pre-training camp prediction of what it will look like in week 1.
Training camp is nearly upon us and the Dallas Cowboys have yet to define clear roles along their defensive line. Part of that confusion is by design; Rod Marinelli values position flex immensely. Multiple players will play multiple positions and a deep bench will provide a steady rotation of personnel throughout the season.
Still, starters are starters and Rod Marinelli is likely to lean on some key players early to take most of the snaps. As we stand now, here are the predicted starters and their positions along the line:
Left Defensive End
Starter: Tyrone Crawford
Primary Depth: Taco Charlton, David Irving
Tyrone Crawford plays both left defensive end and under tackle for the Cowboys. But with the promising play of Maliek Collins, Crawford is destined for heavy snaps at end in 2017. The optimal starter at LDE, David Irving, will begin the season on the suspended list. This will provide a great opportunity for Crawford to establish himself as the primary LDE and push Irving back to the nomadic role he’s played in the past.
1-Technique Nose Tackle
Starter: Cedric Thornton
Primary Depth: Stephen Paea, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Carrell
Cedric Thornton is almost a lock to win the starting nose tackle spot. He wasn’t exceptionally good at it last season but the Dallas Cowboys invested big money and can’t afford to cut him. This gives him the nod over Paea and the rest of the crew. If he wants to stay with the team beyond 2017 he’s going to have to step up his game in a big way.
3-Technique Under Tackle
Starter: Maliek Collins
Primary Depth: Tyrone Crawford, *David Irving, Joey Ivie, Jordan Carrell
This is perhaps the easiest position to predict. As a rookie, Maliek Collins blew everyone away with his pass-rush ability. Some have been speculating he’s going to move to nose tackle so Crawford play tackle next to him, but those speculations seem absurd. Collins is a liability against the run and ill-suited for nose tackle. Collins will play a ton of snaps at under tackle and may even lead the Cowboys in sacks at the end of the season.
*David Irving was the favorite to be the starting LDE before news of his suspension broke. He’s still expected to log a considerable amount of snaps there but expect Rod Marinelli to also move him inside to under tackle in order to exploit mismatches.
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Right Defensive End
Starter: DeMarcus Lawrence
The Dallas Cowboys have a log-jam of options at right defensive end and no clear answers. Lawrence has bounced between both edge spots and failed to stay healthy (and un-suspended) long enough to develop any continuity.
2017 is a contract year for Lawrence and the Cowboys seem committed to seeing what they have in him. Everyone’s motivated to make this work but with other promising options waiting in the wings, the leash will be short.
Nickel Defensive Line
On obvious passing situations the Dallas Cowboys will shift to their nickel defensive line. Traditional defensive tackles will exit and the pass-rushing specialists will enter. Damontre Moore (RDE), Taco Charlton (DT), Tyrone Crawford (DT), and DeMarcus Lawrence (LDE).
Note: When David Irving returns he will play a huge role at various positions, specifically on the nickel defensive line.
Together with a rotation of fresh bodies, the Cowboys will likely keep the line a collection of moving parts throughout the season, but expect players like Collins, Crawford, Lawrence, and Irving to log the most snaps in 2017.