The Dallas Cowboys open training camp in less than two weeks, and yet there are still a ton of questions to be answered as the team gets ready for the 2017 season. While it may not be the spot of the most important question -- that goes to left guard -- the defensive line provides the most questions marks.
Think of it, who do we feel confident about as the Dallas Cowboys prepare for the upcoming season? Maliek Collins? That's about it for me.
The Cowboys have thrown numbers at the position for years now, with few solid answers as a result. Finally they invested draft capital in a player that doesn't seem to have question marks about his health or character, just his position fit.
So here are my list of questions that I will look to have answered during training camp.
Where Does Taco Charlton fit on the Defensive Line?
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Taco Charlton in the first round in 2017. They claimed he would be the answer at right defensive end. In this scheme, that side of the line is typically reserved for guys with speed and the ability to put pressure on the quarterback's blind side. But Charlton's size and athleticism make him a better fit for the left side.
As our own Sean Martin notes, Charlton has been more impressive from the left side.
Is Benson Mayowa Ready to Take the Next Step?
Relatively unknown before the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a restricted free agent tender that the Oakland Raiders declined to match, Mayowa has all the look of a dominant 4-3 edge rusher.
His career had been relatively quiet until joining the Dallas Cowboys, where he led the team in sacks in 2016. Collecting six sacks in 13 games isn't bad, but it isn't dominant either. Dallas needs someone to step up and be a dominant pass rusher. Can that be Mayowa?
He needs to show improvement for the Cowboys to step forward as a defense.
Can Cedric Thornton Return to "Big Money" Play?
Prior to the 2016 season, the Dallas Cowboys signed Cedric Thornton to a four-year deal with $6 million guaranteed, expecting him to be the starting 1-tech. He couldn't beat out Terrell McClain.
His first season with Dallas disappointed.
Thornton didn't start a game for the first time since his rookie season and suffered a career-low in tackles. He had half a sack more than his career average of one sack per season, but that isn't anything to get excited about.
Thornton will need to return to the form that earned him his contract, otherwise he may see another player take over the 1-tech.
Because Maliek Collins can play both defensive tackle positions, it's possible that Thornton is relegated to a backup role again.
Will Returning Proper Scheme Fit Help Stephen Paea?
In 2014, Stephen Paea experienced a breakout season for the Chicago Bears as the 1-technique defensive tackle. Here's a film review on Paea.
His six sacks were nearly three times that of his previous career high.
After playing defensive end in 3-4 schemes -- first in Washington in 2015 and then in Cleveland in 2016 and experiencing career-lows -- Paea returns to proper 1-tech in Rod Marinelli's scheme.
In fact, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is the primary reason for Paea coming to Dallas. He hopes to resurrect his career in his most natural position.
The question is, will he?
What is Charles Tapper?
I'm as excited to see Charles Tapper suit up for the Dallas Cowboys as anyone. He was a steal in the 4th round of the 2016 draft and has a chance to help this team. The question remains because we have yet to see him in a 4-3 defense and in the NFL no less.
At the University of Oklahoma, he played out of position as a 3-4 end, and still led the team in sacks with seven. That is no small feat in the quick passing league that the Big 12 is.
While I am optimistic about his ability and fit in Dallas, I'm cautious because we have yet to see him play. Like me, Brian Martin thinks Tapper will improve the pass rush in 2017.
Hopefully that question will be answered during preseason. I have high hopes for what Tapper could bring, but like many say, "hope isn't a strategy."
Will David Irving Find Consistency After His Suspension?
The knock on David Irving had very little to do with his potential or his ability; it all came down to his consistency.
He's already off to a rough start with a four-game suspension to start the season. Yes he'll be allowed to practice with the team during training camp and play in preseason games, but he won't be allowed to practice with the team during his suspension, which begins week 1.
A player with consistency issues needs reps to find a comfort level to make the plays they are capable of making on a week-to-week basis. Irving's 2017 campaign is already starting off on the wrong foot.
Will Damontre Moore Finally Realize His Potential?
Coming out of Texas A&M, Damontre Moore was initially projected as a top-10 pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
He had a productive career for the Aggies and showed versatility to play 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. His poor combine performance saw him slide into the third round where the New York Giants added him to their stable of pass rushers.
In his second season with the Giants, he racked up a career-high 5.5 sacks. Not bad for a guy who didn't start a game and was primarily a situational pass rusher.
Immaturity and consistency have killed his career to this point.
Moore and the Cowboys are hoping that yet another fresh start will lead to the player realizing his top-10 draft potential. Still just 24 years old, Moore has age on his side and still has a knack for finding the quarterback.
You can read a film review on Moore by Kevin Brady here.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence be Healthy for 2017?
All indications are that DeMarcus Lawrence will be healthy entering the 2017, but coming off a second back surgery in as many years, one has to be a bit skeptical.
Back issues are no small thing. Ask a friend who deals with chronic back pain, ruptured disks, pinched nerves, etc., and they will tell you that simple things can be hard to do and activity level decreases.
I can't imagine what it would be like to play in the NFL with a bad back. Make no mistake, while he may be deemed healthy enough to play in 2017, Lawrence has a bad back. Like we saw with Tony Romo in the preseason of 2016, what is going to happen when Lawrence has someone land on him awkwardly?
After having eight sacks in the throw away season of 2015, Lawrence struggled to get going in 2016. He only played in nine games and recorded just one sack.
Getting back to form is going to be an uphill battle for Lawrence, who will have to get back in game shape even after getting back into football shape.
I think it's likely that Lawrence starts the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Where will Tyrone Crawford Play in 2017?
Tyrone Crawford has been an enigma of sorts for the Dallas Cowboys.
Crawford finally seemed to find a home as the team's 3-technique defensive tackle in 2014, after playing defensive end in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. His 2013 season was lost to a torn Achilles.
In 2015, playing primarily at the 3-tech, he experienced a career-high in sacks with 5 and tied his previous high in tackles.
With the team struggling to stop the run and the emergence of Maliek Collins in 2016, the team moved Crawford to defensive end yet again.
While he did have 4.5 sacks playing out of position, it's left many to wonder: where does Crawford fit in 2017?
His best position by far is 3-tech, but the Cowboys will need players to step up on the edge so they can move him back inside full-time.
As you can see, the defensive line is loaded with question marks. Assuming that Maliek Collins is as good as he was in the second half of 2016, he is the only player that we don't need to worry about.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive line looks to have a lot of potential. But at the moment, with all the question marks surrounding it, potential is all it is.
That potential needs to be realized.
Terrance Williams Contract Creates 2018 Job Security
There's been a lot of talk about what the Dallas Cowboys will do at the receiver position this offseason. While there's a great divide on what the team should do with Dez Bryant, there's a fairly unanimous opinion that Dallas should find an upgrade over Terrance Williams. No matter where he ends up on the depth chart, though, Williams' contract should keep him on the roster in 2018.
Last offseason, Terrance signed a four-year, $17 million deal to stay in Dallas. Because we are now just in the second year of that deal, it is cost prohibitive against the salary cap to release or trade him.
Williams is scheduled to count $4.75 million against the 2018 cap. If Dallas were to cut him, it would accelerate his remaining guaranteed money and create $7.25 million in dead money this year. He would cost more against the cap off the roster than on it.
Even the June-1st provision doesn't help. Williams' dead money in 2018 drops to $4.75 million, which is a net zero against his existing cap hit. It would also push $2.5 million of dead money to 2019. There's no benefit there, and you lose an experienced player who knows your system.
If the Cowboys do like their WR depth enough to want to move on from Terrance, one option is to try to trade him. A trade would lower the cap penalty to $3.75 million and save $1 million. If he's traded after June 1st, it would save $3.5 million against this year's cap.
Of course, it takes two to tango in this scenario. Williams hasn't scored a touchdown since 2016 and has never proven he can take on a significant role in an offense. He was serviceable when Dez Bryant and Jason Witten commanded more attention, but he's a low-end WR2 at best and many teams likely wouldn't want him in their top 2-3 receivers.
Perhaps something could happen during training camps or preseason, when injuries may make other teams desperate. Then again, something could happen in Dallas that makes them less willing to part with Terrance.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that Terrance Williams won't be a Cowboy in 2018. And really, that's not bad thing.
Even if he gets pushed down the depth chart, Terrance would be a good insurance policy against injuries or any other issues that could happen between now and September. $4.75 million is more than you'd like to pay your fourth WR but it's a one-year problem.
If the Cowboys do add more WR talent this offseason, there is a trickle-down effect that strengthens the entire club. Williams, with his experience, is an upgrade over Brice Butler as the fourth receiver.
Therefore, unless circumstances both here and elsewhere allow Dallas to find a trade partner, Terrance Williams should be back next year.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys to Re-Sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for 2018
Continuity is the key to good special teams play in the NFL. Already losing long-time Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia to the Raiders - who promptly snatched ST aces Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber in free agency - the Dallas Cowboys have announced their intentions to re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for the 2018 season.
Returning on a one-year deal, the fan favorite Ladouceur will be back to do what he does best in cleanly executing almost every special teams snap for Chris Jones or Dan Bailey to handle.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will re-sign with the Cowboys on Monday, according to sources, on a one-year deal. He will be in his 14th season with the franchise. Only Jason Witten, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei will have more years of... https://t.co/yTQbMYyrIv
While Jones has improved as the Cowboys' punter with each passing season, Kicker Dan Bailey actually enters 2018 as another question mark on this unit. With the general belief around the team being that Bailey will be just fine moving forward, the Cowboys will no longer have to worry about who handles long snaps next year either.
L.P. Ladouceur is back in the silver and blue, and in this moment, everything can be alright with the world.
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