Dallas Cowboys: How many DE snaps can we except from Brent Urban?

: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s a windfall of questions circling the Dallas Cowboys defense this summer. From, what will the secondary look like, to who will be rotating at linebacker, to how many guys will be on the line of scrimmage each down. At the end of the day, we will have to wait and see in order to find out.

One of the questions we hope to answer is exactly where free agent signee Brent Urban will line up for the Dallas Cowboys.

When signed, it seemed a forgone conclusion Brent Urban would man the 1-tech defensive tackle spot. It was the weakest position on the team and a spot Urban was fairly competent to play. The 30-year old defensive tackle rated as the 3rd best run stopper in the league last season so it stands to reason he’d be the solution inside for Dallas as well.

There’s reason to believe Brent Urban will be moving around, playing a variety of positions for the Dallas Cowboys.

But there’s reason to believe things aren’t quite as clear-cut and defined as we thought. And that Brent Urban will be moving around, playing a variety of positions in 2021 for the Dallas Cowboys.

The first red flag that Urban wasn’t just a defensive tackle was when the Dallas Cowboys first listed the 6-foot-7 lineman as a defensive end on their roster. Pro Football Reference also labeled Urban as a DE on the Cowboys, despite listing him as a DT just a season before.

The second indicator things would be murky with Urban comes after any Dan Quinn film study. Quinn runs a representation of the Seattle single high that bounces between a Cover 1 and Cover 3 on most downs (he ran Cover 3 47% of the time and Cover 1 29% of the time). When in base defense, Quinn leans on an odd man front that puts three guys on the line and rushes a LEO pass rusher from the edge.

Multiple players are tasked with 2-gap responsibility, including one of his defensive ends. None more famous than Seattle’s Red Bryant. The 6-foot-5, 326lb giant looked like a DT but played a ton of snaps outside at DE.

In much the same way Brent Urban figures to split his time inside and outside. Urban has spent most of career playing in odd man fronts. He’s bounced between NT, 1 tech, and 4-tech. The main constant has been his ability to 2-gap at all of those spots.

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In Dallas we should expect to see him both outside on odd-man fronts, and inside in even man fronts. How much time he spends in each spot will likely depend on the players around him. Last season was arguably his best season as a pro and in it he played 35% of the snaps. The Dallas Cowboys would like to keep that same snap count for him in 2021 but they’re going to need help from guys like Quinton Bohanna for that to happen.

If Bohanna (and/or Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill, Carlos Watkins, etc…) can take meaningful snaps inside, the Dallas Cowboys can keep Urban’s snap count in the right range as he bounces inside and outside.

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At the end of the day we should expect Brent Urban to primarily play DT for the Cowboys this season but it wouldn’t be shocking to see as much as 40% of his snaps come as a DE in certain alignments. How it’s divided will probably depend on outside factors so we should be prepared to see him play both inside and outside in 2021.