The Dallas Cowboys finished their 4 win 2015 season with 31 sacks, causing the defensive end position to become a spot that was talked about by writers and fans endlessly leading up to free agency and the draft.
Dallas did little to address the pass rush in the off season, signing only defensive tackle Cedric Thornton from the Eagles and restricted free agent defensive end Benson Mayowa from the Raiders. Still, the end position seemed at least somewhat stable, as the Cowboys prepared to bring back Randy Gregory off of injuries in 2016 to rush the passer opposite of breakout 2nd year player DeMarcus Lawrence.
Suddenly, Gregory showed us all why the gifted rusher fell to the Cowboys in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, when his drug issues re-emerged to land him a four game suspension entering 2016.
Cowboys Nation turned to DeMarcus Lawrence to emulate his 2015 output in 2016, if not improve on it, before he was hit with a pending four game suspension. While his suspension is not official yet, the team is preparing for life without the 2014 2nd round pick to start this season.
With the draft quickly approaching, the Cowboys depth chart at DE looked something like this:
Yet, the Dallas front office held true to their “win-now” mentality. It can take years worth of drafts to completely retool a premium position like defensive end, and the Cowboys simply don’t have that time.
What the Cowboys do have along the defensive line was something we saw the makings of in 2015 – a ferocious rotation of defensive tackles. Tyrone Crawford was locked up to a new long-term deal, and David Irving was signed mid-season from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Irving and Crawford is a great start, but not nearly enough if Rod Marinelli expects his defensive line to be able to generate and sustain pressure from the middle each and every week.
The Thornton signing added yet another layer to this, and the Cowboys added Nebraska DT Maliek Collins last night in the third round. While many fans, including myself, called for the pick to be used on a defensive end rather than a tackle, the addition of Collins makes a lot of sense.
We know defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli loves guys with a high-motor that he can mold into a player, and judging by his phone call from the war room to Collins, the Nebraska product fits this description pretty well.
In the Cowboys’ first four games of the season, they may very well ask guys like Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford, and David Irving to play more snaps at left defensive end. If they do, Maliek Jackson and Cedric Thornton can make them feel much better about the interior of the line along with the newly re-signed Jack Crawford.
Building any team will always be about understanding strengths and weaknesses. This is especially true in the NFL, where each team builds to it’s own set of philosophies and concepts.
The Cowboys philosophy is to win at all costs, and you need a pass rush to win. Conventional wisdom tells us that this means you need star defensive ends to win.
Or, as we may find out very soon, you need Dallas’ potentially lethal rotation of hungry defensive tackles charging at quarterbacks’ faces.
So, before you panic over the day 2 that the Cowboys had in the draft, hold off until training camp – when we will get to see this Cowboys’ defensive line get to work against the best offensive line in football.
Even more defensive help could be on the way for the Cowboys in rounds 5-7, with the last day of the draft getting started in just a few hours! Once it does, be sure to follow along here at Inside The Star and @CowboysNation for instant analysis on the newest players to join the silver and blue.