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Cowboys Outlook: Defensive Line Depth A Strength in 2019

John Williams



DeMarcus Lawrence Has the Leverage in Cowboys Contract Talks

It isn't too big of a stretch to look at the current construction of the Dallas Cowboys and see a team that is one of the deepest in the NFL. Take a look at the position groups and you see a team that will have a lot of competition to make the 53-man roster. Wide receiver, offensive line, cornerback, and defensive line all look to be really deep.

At defensive line, there are legitimately 10-12 players who will push for a roster spot during training camp. Some will be squeezed out by the competition and others by how the rest of the roster is constructed.

Let's look at the defensive line depth that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be taking into training camp this offseason.

Defensive End

The Cowboys defensive end group look like it's going to bring a lot of heat in 2019. With DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn bookending the defensive line, the Dallas Cowboys pass rush will be one of the better ones in the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys finally did what they needed to do and got their All-Pro Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence locked up for the next five years. Lawrence is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. There are few 4-3 defensive ends who are as great a pass rusher as Lawrence is, who plays the run with equal effectiveness.

Coming over from Miami in a trade during free agency, Quinn is going to get the benefit of not being the most feared pass rusher on the defensive line. With opposing offenses looking to slow down DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side of the line, Quinn is going to face more one-on-one rush situations. Teams won't be able to provide help to both of their tackles, so they'll have to pick their poison. With Quinn on a one-year deal, he looks primed to return to his All-Pro form.

Behind Lawrence and Quinn are a plethora of intriguing players who will battle for snaps throughout the preseason. Dorance Armstrong, Taco Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson, and Jalen Jelks will all be competing for playing time behind their top two defensive ends.

As it stands now, Armstrong (right defensive end) and Crawford (left defensive end) are probably the players who will get the first snaps behind Lawrence and Quinn. Crawford is a valuable leader on the team that provides some flexibility to rush on the inside as well. Dorance Armstrong showed some promise in his rookie season and has a lot of potential.

Taco Charlton has had an up and down first couple of seasons in the NFL. After starting slow his rookie season, he finished strong toward the last half of the 2017 season. His second year in the league was a bit more underwhelming, but he struggled with a shoulder injury in the middle part of the season and had a difficult time finding a role when he came back from the injury. Going into his third season, he needs to show some of the potential that made him a first round pick. Otherwise this could be Taco's final season in Dallas.

Kerry Hyder is very much like Tyrone Crawford in his ability to play both inside and on the edge. Back in 2016, Hyder had eight sacks for the Detroit Lions, but struggled with injuries in 2017 and playing severly out of position as a 3-4 nose tackle for the Lions. Hyder is an intriguing player heading into 2019 as the Cowboys could use him similarly to Crawford all over the defensive line.

Rookie Defensive Ends Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks have a lot of work to do this offseason to make a push for a roster spot, but are likely headed for the practice squad in 2019.

This whole discussion doesn't even include Randy Gregory who is facing an indefinite suspension. The Dallas Cowboys sound optimistic about his potential to play this offseason, but he remains a big unknown. If he's available, he'll be on the roster.

Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Defensive Tackle

Dallas Cowboys' Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods

Defensive Tackle

After years of begging for the Dallas Cowboys to invest in the interior defensive line, the Cowboys brought in a defensive tackle with 1-tech and 3-tech ability in free agency in Christian Covington. Then in the NFL Draft, they spent their top pick in the draft on Trysten Hill in the second round.

On the interior, the Cowboys have four players in Antwaun Woods, Christian Covington, Maliek Collins and Trysten Hill who will be really good for team in 2019.

Antwaun Woods was an incredible find off of the Tennessee Titans practice squad. In 2018, Woods started 15 games for the Dallas Cowboys as their 1-technique defensive tackle. Only DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford played more defensive snaps along the defensive line than Woods in 2018.

Woods partner in the 1-technique defensive tackle rotation is former Houston Texans 3-4 Defensive End Christian Covington. Covington brings similar size to the position as Woods, but can also play some 3-technique as well. He had 3.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits for the Texans.

Woods and Covington should provide a nice pairing at the 1-technique, which will allow Maliek Collins to play his more natural 3-technique role.

After his rookie season where he had five sacks for the Cowboys, Maliek Collins has been forced to play more 1-technique defensive tackle. Play the 1-tech instead of the 3-tech defensive tackle spot means he has to take on more interior double teams and isn't allowed to be the gap penetrator that suits him more naturally. When allowed to play more at the 3-tech, Collins has been a disruptive player. Now he'll go into his first contract year attempting to hold off rookie Trysten Hill, Tyrone Crawford, and Kerry Hyder for snaps at the position.

Trysten Hill probably slots in as the second 3-tech defensive tackle behind Maliek Collins. Hill offers a lot of burst and power off of the line of scrimmage and will be a disruptive player in the NFL. He's quick off of the snap and with Rod Marinelli in his ear, Hill will be the starter at 3-tech at some point in 2019 or 2020.

The other rookie defensive tackle to keep an eye on during the preseason is Defensive Tackle Daniel Wise. Wise was thought to be a player that could go in the fourth or fifth round, so the Dallas Cowboys feel like they got a steal when they signed him as an undrafted free agent. Wise was a very productive player at Kansas and has a shot to make the final 53-man roster.

Daniel Ross will be competing for a roster spot and offers nice depth if there's an injury on the defensive interior.

The Cowboys have five guys who could take snaps at 3-technique and that's before you start talking about the potential of moving DeMarcus Lawrence inside on some pass rush downs.

Along the defensive line, there are a lot of interesting camp battles that will be really fun to watch play out. The Cowboys could carry up to 10 defensive linemen on their final 53-man roster and there may be one or two surprises by the end of training camp.

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.


Star Blog

PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL

Kevin Brady



Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.

Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.

These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.

PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.

PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.

"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."

The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.

Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.

While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.

With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.

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Star Blog

3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season

Matthew Lenix



3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season

Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.

1. Culture

Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.

"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.

This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.

2. The other weapons around him

The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.

Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.

Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.

3. Motivation

Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.

"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.

Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.

Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.

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Star Blog

Is La’el Collins Playing For A Contract On A Different Team?

Kevin Brady



Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

How good is La'el Collins?

This is a question that Cowboys fans have disagreed on since his rookie season. Collins, who originally joined the team as their left guard replacing an injured Ronald Leary in 2015, moved out to right tackle in 2017, starting all 32 games there the last 2 seasons.

Collins' play has been somewhat up-and-down, as should be expected when a lineman not only switches from guard to tackle, but from the left side to the right side as well. Still, he's been a solid right tackle and a stable presence for a Cowboys offensive line which has struggled with major injuries at other positions over the last couple of years.

While Collins has not been the "elite" level player fans had hoped for when signed after the 2015 draft, he's been a solid player nonetheless. Dak Prescott has faced more pressure from the right side of the line than the left, but a good portion of that pressure has to do with him struggling to sense pressure from that right side.

The Dallas Cowboys seem rather undecided about La'el Collins' future with the team themselves, though. Dallas went out and draft guard Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft, starting the whirlwind of rumors that McGovern will be the starting left guard in 2020. This would kick second year player Connor Williams out to right tackle, allowing Dallas to let Collins walk without too much worry.

While this is well and good on paper, on the field the transition will likely not be as smooth. We've already seen how tough it is to move from left guard to right tackle in just one offseason, even if you were a college tackle once upon a time. Connor Williams could face these same struggles, despite possibly even anticipating the change a year out.

Regardless, La'el Collins is now in a contract year and is playing for that new deal come 2020. Dallas may not be looking to extend him, mostly due to the plethora of new deals they'll be handing out to other players, but he will be a hot commodity come free agency if and when he hits the open market.

Collins could very well be playing for a new contract elsewhere this season, as his days in Dallas look to be numbered.

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