The Cowboys have undergone significant change at defensive tackle this offseason, perhaps the most telling sign they're under a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn. Previously a position the Cowboys have neglected in both free agency and the draft, Dallas ranked 30th in rush yards allowed under Mike Nolan in 2020.
While it may be their depth and versatility at linebacker that helps patch up the run defense the most, the team saw acquisitions like Dontari Poe blow up in their face last season while also losing promising 3T Trysten Hill to an ACL tear early in the year. Determined to improve this unit for 2021, here is a look at the Cowboys returners and newcomers at defensive tackle – coached by another former assistant to Quinn in first-year DL Coach Aden Durde.
Getting to Know Aden Durde
Durde is best known for his work in international football, playing in England for the London Olympians, Scottish Claymores, and Hamburg Sea Devils. (I feel as if I've achieved a writing milestone using all three of those team names in a sentence).
Helping players transition from the UK to the NFL was Durde's focus before joining the Falcons coaching staff in 2018. He was promoted from defensive quality control coach to outside linebackers coach last season. A former linebacker himself, Durde can prove valuable across the Cowboys front seven with plenty of new faces, but will have his hands full with just the defensive line given the number of talented players being asked to make a second scheme change in as many seasons.
Returning Players at Defensive Tackle
Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill, and Justin Hamilton are the Cowboys returners at DT. In previous seasons, this lineup would all but guarantee that Hill reclaims his starting role as a disruptive pass rushing under tackle.
The third-year player who was the Cowboys top draft pick in 2019 will face outside competition instead, but should fit Quinn's scheme well and be motivated to further prove his draft status as a developing tackle.
Some of the same can be said for Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore. Seeing increased playing time as the season went on, Gallimore flashed as a quick DT with the ability to burst into the backfield and create negative plays. The Cowboys also added depth at DE in the draft with Chauncey Golston, but his experience at DT makes him further competition for Hill and Gallimore to earn their snaps.
New Players at Defensive Tackle
Carlos Watkins, Osa Odighizuwa, Austin Faoliu, Quinton Bohanna, and Brent Urban are the Cowboys newcomers at DT. This group features another round of free agent signings aiming to plug the needed 1T position.
Watkins and Urban were signed on the same day to Dallas via Houston and Chicago respectively. Urban has posted the better career numbers, and anchored a number of stout Bears defenses.
It will be up to sixth round pick Quinton Bohanna to potentially push either veteran FA, already a fan-favorite DT for his social media presence and Memphis background – perhaps reminding the team and followers alike of now-Colt Antwaun Woods.
As mentioned, the Cowboys depth at linebacker may best be deployed if a player like Micah Parsons or Jaylon Smith is used primarily in pass rush. This makes the need for a defensive tackle that can occupy blocks all the more important, and come training camp the Cowboys will figure out which newcomer gives them this trait at the best price.
Competing with Hill and Gallimore will be another rookie in Odighizuwa. The heavy-handed and versatile linemen out of UCLA could line up nearly anywhere in Dallas' front. This hardly guarantees Odighizuwa playing time however, facing the numbers crunch at either end or tackle. Should Odighizuwa make a serious push for reps at 3T, the Cowboys did use Gallimore at 1T at times last season, giving them a reason to go deep with young talent at this position.
Austin Faoliu is a UDFA out of Oregon, a roster longshot that does bring experience lining up in three and four man fronts.
Better or Worse? Cowboys Defensive Tackles
Fellow Staff Writer Jess Haynie ran a series here on the Cowboys improvements and downgrades at each position from a year ago. From his outlook at defensive tackle:
There's definitely a mentality of “it couldn't be worse” when looking at the defensive tackles in 2020. From injuries to scheme changes to young players still learning, this was one of the real weak points on last year's team.
Between the new free agents and rookie additions, plus the hoped-for growth from Hill and Gallimore, it's hard to see this group not being better from 2020. If nothing else, the upgrade of Dan Quinn over Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator should help the players be more effective.
Defensive tackle is a position where Dan Quinn has consistently maximized the talent he's given, making the Cowboys unproven depth chart here a potential strength before too long. The first goal for this group will be to improve the team's run defense, something they're prepared to do with the additions of Urban, Watkins, and Bohanna.