Dallas Cowboys: Predicting the 2021 defensive line

Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /
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Tarell Basham, Dallas Cowboys, OLB Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Tarell Basham, Dallas Cowboys, OLB Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Dallas Cowboys Outside Linebacker Room

Under normal circumstances, I’d just call these players EDGE defenders, but I did want to make the designation because some players who play primarily on the line of scrimmage stand up instead of putting their hand in the dirt. Their alignments usually consist of lining up on or inside the tight end as a 5 or 6-technique or in the D-gap as a 7 or 9-technique rusher and their responsibilities usually require containing the edge to constrain running lanes and providing pressure from the outside with speed and counter moves.

Tarell Basham

Probably the biggest free-agent acquisition this summer, the former Indianapolis Colt and New York Jet brought his talents from the Big Apple to the Big D. Basham has been a slow riser throughout his football career. He had to attend a year of post-graduate school before signing with the University of Ohio where he spent four years. After being drafted fairly high by the Colts, it was the Jets that ended up getting the most out of him last season, coincidentally the fourth season of his professional career.

Basham has always been a pretty good run defender. He possesses good arm length and maintains good pad level so he can engage with the bigger tackles in the NFL as they try to drive him away from the ball carrier. He can neutralize blocks and has the upper body and grip strength to disengage and tackle the ball carrier.

Dallas was pretty horrendous last season trying to defend the run, but most of the problems came from the interior defensive line who was unable to neutralize double team blocks to give the linebackers easy access to the ball carrier. That said, grabbing good reinforcements to contain the outside still provides immense value to any defense especially on early downs.

Basham’s game has obviously developed throughout the years, but it was really important that he had career highs as a pass rusher last season. The New York Jets interior defensive line was really strong on the inside with Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers as the 3-technique tackles, so someone needed to capitalize on the outside as an outside backer. Basham led the linebacker group with 3.5 sacks while playing 64 percent of the defensive snaps.

The Cowboys signed Basham to be a designated pass rusher on passing downs and have been clear about his usage and playtime from the very beginning. Something serious would need to happen in order for Basham to not make the roster come September.

Randy Gregory

It has been a long journey for Gregory, but we might finally be at the end of the beginning. The 2015 second-round pick has dealt with his fair share of suspensions as a result of his medical marijuana usage. The NFL’s new policy on marijuana enacted last season allowed Gregory to come back to the field midway through last season. In ten games, the former Cornhusker tallied 3.5 sacks and 12 QB hits. In fact, the holding back of Gregory from his return to the field was a primary reason why former defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was fired.

Gregory can rush with his hand in the ground and in a two-point stance and displays excellent upfield burst from both positions when rushing the quarterback. His agility, explosiveness, and speed were already a problem for offensive tackles to deal with so Dan Quinn has to be aware of that.

Using Gregory as a designated pass rusher could help the team control his snap count to be his most efficient self when factoring in his playstyle and desire to win with speed, counter, and power pass rush plans.I know I was just talking about using Randy Gregory more, but there is a good chance he plays greater than 25 percent of snaps in the 2021 season. Quinn knows he has to use Gregory, Quinn knows he wants to use Gregory. I don’t see play time being an issue down the road for this defense.