The Dallas Cowboys are sitting at home this Sunday, looking on at a week twelve schedule in the NFL full of teams that have passed them by following the Cowboys' 28-6 Thanksgiving loss.
Their third straight loss scoring less than ten points, Cowboys Nation has used every possible second finding potential solutions to the team's problems - which involves placing blame on players and coaches.
Failing to compete in all three of these recent embarrassments without RB Ezekiel Elliott or LB Sean Lee, calls for Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan to lose their jobs have been loud and frequent at 5-6.
As I slowly start to turn my attention to the 2018 NFL Draft with each Cowboys loss though, I can't help but see this team's biggest needs remaining on the defensive side of the ball.
Conversations can certainly be had about the offensive-minded Jason Garrett still leading this team or Scott Linehan still calling the offensive plays next season, but immediate panic about personnel on this side of the ball is overshadowing constant problems with Rod Marinelli's defense.
In his fourth season coordinating the Dallas defense, Rod Marinelli has done little to develop the talent he's been given - or not given - to work with. When Sean Lee is not leading the Cowboys defense, Marinelli's unit looks even more lost, as the organization has taken a lazy approach to adding talent alongside Lee at linebacker.
Where the Cowboys were not lazy this offseason was in their secondary, committing to a total youth movement in letting veteran players walk for draft picks Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods.
The success of the Cowboys' secondary was still going to be predicated on Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Anthony Brown this season - three players that have had varying levels of struggles. Marinelli's predictable alignments in the back end have done little to help any of these players utilize their strengths.
It may be hard to remember at the moment given the circumstances surrounding the Cowboys, but this offense is going to play football with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield again at some point.
When Elliott is on the field, the highly criticized Cowboys receivers can create more favorable match ups and beat single coverage. The logic that this past draft class for the Cowboys patched up a defense that is doing everything they can to support an offense in need of some fresh faces is far from the truth, as many more starting pieces are still needed on defense.
Whether it is Rod Marinelli or a new defensive coordinator ushering in the future of the Cowboys' defense, unexpected concerns at LB, DT, and S cannot be ignored if things are truly going to get back on track for a team that won 13 games a year ago with a defense mostly departed that spring.
"New toys" for Dak Prescott can come, as the talks of drafting a WR in the first round or another RB high have dominated early holiday conversations around the Cowboys, but an entire change of mindset on building defense is needed in Dallas.
What’s the Next Move for Cowboys in Free Agency?
After sitting out the first wave of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys finally dipped their toes in the free agent pool and signed linebacker Joe Thomas and wide receiver Deonte Thompson.
Signing these two free agents will be viewed as somewhat insignificant moves by the majority of Cowboys fans, but it does prove that the organization isn't sitting on their hands. In fact, they have been bringing in a number of free agents for visits, but haven't been able to close the deal with any of them as of yet.
We are still about a month away from the start of the 2018 NFL Draft, which means the Dallas Cowboys will more than likely sign a few more free agents. They would like to fill as many holes as possible heading into the draft so that they aren't pigeonholed by any specific position.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the next move the Dallas Cowboys could make in free agency and the positions they could be targeting.
It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys are interested in upgrading the safety position. There is a definite hole to fill now that Byron Jones is moving back to cornerback and I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Heath's job is secure either.
This is why the most popular topic of discussion this offseason has centered on the possible acquisition of Earl Thomas. Unfortunately, the Seattle Seahawks asking price is simply too high and likely means the Thomas and Cowboys union is nothing more than a pipe dream.
But, there are still several free agent safeties who they could show an interest in and could upgrade the position. Tre Boston, Kenny Vaccaro, and Eric Reid are all still available on the open market and could come in and be immediate upgrades for the Cowboys.
Personally, Tre Boston is the safety I would target if I were the Dallas Cowboys. He had a breakout season in 2017 as a member of the San Diego Chargers in Gus Bradley's defensive scheme. Bradley's scheme is similar to the way Kris Richard will use the Cowboys secondary players.
The Dallas Cowboys have already brought in several offensive lineman free agents, which would indicate they are serious about not only finding a new starting left guard, but adding some much-needed depth. Their lack of depth really hurt them in 2017 and they definitely don't want that to happen again moving forward.
Marcus Martin, Cameron Fleming, and LaAdrian Waddle have all reportedly met with the Dallas Cowboys. Martin and Fleming are currently still free agents, but Waddle recently re-signed with the New England Patriots.
Both Marcus Martin and Cameron Fleming makes sense for the Cowboys and would be a welcomed addition to the roster. Martin would likely take over Joe Looney's role as the backup center/guard, but could compete for the starting LG position. Fleming could start at right tackle, but would also be an immediate upgrade at the swing tackle position
There are other options still available, but hopefully something can materialize with Marcus Martin and Cameron Fleming.
The Dallas Cowboys currently have enough bodies to deploy along the defensive line if the 2018 season were to start today, but they could definitely stand to upgrade the 1-technique. It's one of the reasons why Vita Vea has been mocked to the Dallas Cowboys as a potential first-round pick on a regular basis.
The Cowboys have shown in the past that they don't particularly value the 1-tech position very highly, which means they will likely be bargain shopping in free agency and possibly wait until the middle rounds to draft one.
There are a few free agent DTs who I believe they should target, Jonathan Hankins and Bennie Logan. Both players would definitely be an upgrade over what the Cowboys deployed last season and probably won't break the bank to acquire.
Unfortunately, they might not be very high on Hankins since he wasn't even on their draft board back in 2013, but he still makes sense nonetheless. I believe they had a third-round grade on Logan however, so they could still be interested in bringing him aboard. Regardless, finding another big-bodied/space eating DT in free agency could be a priority.
The Dallas Cowboys already added some much-needed depth by signing Joe Thomas, but I don't think they should stop there. Thomas is more of a weak side linebacker, but the Cowboys could still definitely use someone to backup the middle and strong side positions behind Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson.
Unfortunately, the linebacker position has been depleted significantly already in free agency. The only option that really makes sense is Navorro Bowman, who the Cowboys showed interested in bringing aboard last season after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers.
If the Dallas Cowboys were somehow able to convince Bowman in signing, then they would likely have already improved not only the depth, but talent from last season. Add another rookie LB at some point in the draft, and the weakness suddenly becomes a strength.
The Cowboys are reported to have an interest in Bowman, but that's as far as it's gone so far. It might be time to make something happen before someone else snatches him up.
Which position or player would you like the Cowboys to target next in free agency?
Sean’s Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Cowboys D
It took some time, but the Dallas Cowboys have their first outside free agent of the offseason, signing Linebacker Joe Thomas to provide depth at a position where Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber have already signed elsewhere.
The fifth-year pro has played exclusively with the Green Bay Packers, but the Cowboys do have some familiarity with Thomas as he spent part of 2015 on their practice squad.
Joe Thomas has served as a core special teams contributor and sub-package LB for the Packers out of South Carolina State, and will now look to bring these services to a Cowboys team in need of play making ability on both defense and special teams.
Using film from this past season, here is Joe Thomas' full scouting report.
LB Joe Thomas: Strengths
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Joe Thomas lined up at all three LB positions for the Packers, taking the majority of his snaps on defense at MIKE or WILL. The WILL position is where Thomas should fit best in Dallas.
Not overly physical with a shorter but square frame, Thomas is a rangy player with light feet and fluid movement ability. Shifting laterally along the line of scrimmage to "pick through trash" is not a problem for Thomas, nor is flipping his hips and running to the football.
It may take Thomas more effort than it should to get in position on most plays, with false steps and late reads being an issue, but once he establishes his sight on the point of attack this is a downhill missile of a player.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Joe Thomas uses his length well to disengage from blocks and finish off plays, doing a nice job of not allowing blockers into his chest consistently.
With Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith expected to be the Cowboys' primary starters at WILL and MIKE respectively, Thomas could supplement these two physical, well-rounded players extremely well given his athleticism.
LB Joe Thomas: Weaknesses
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
There is a reason a player with the raw traits of Joe Thomas goes un-drafted, and in this case it is because of awareness and anticipation issues in Thomas' game.
Far too often on tape, Thomas is forcing himself to recover from false steps against the blockers in front of him. I would have loved to see a player with this movement ability get more clean opportunities to finish at the football, but it was simply not there for Thomas.
When Thomas wasn't late to the ball against the run, he was getting caught flat-footed in space trying to compensate for this reactionary ability. This led to Thomas' fair share of missed tackles, where the LB failed to break down correctly.
Overall, Thomas did a decent job of avoiding blocks and disengaging, and does play with better-than-expected stopping power. The strength and technique to shed blocks was rarely seen though, relying on his quickness to outrun opponents to the spot.
LB Joe Thomas: Summary
This is a player that should help the Dallas Cowboys in two phases of their game this season.
Signed for both 2018 and 2019, the Cowboys have clearly seen enough from their former practice squad linebacker in Green Bay to bring back an athletic ST ace with upside on defense.
Joe Thomas shouldn't be taking Lee or Smith off the field regularly this season, but at his best he will factor into Rod Marinelli's defense on passing downs.
Thomas gives a unit predicated on flowing to the ball even more speed on the field, and is an ideal depth signing with the versatility to cover punts and kickoffs.
Could a Special Coach Help Dez Bryant’s Route-Running?
Dez Bryant's career with the Dallas Cowboys may be in limbo, but that's not stopping him from trying to improve his game and on-field performance.
Bryant will reportedly train with personal wide receivers coach David Robinson, who specializes in route-running, according to reporter Jane Slater of NFL Network. This should come as good news to a lot of Cowboys fans, because Dez Bryant has often been criticized throughout his professional career for his route-running.
If anything, this news should indicate that Dez Bryant is more determined than ever to rebound from his disappointing 2017 season and prove his critics wrong that he is no longer one of the top receivers in the league. I for one am not going to bet against him.
Bryant's work ethic and passion for the game have never been questioned. His desire to be the best is evident anytime you turn on his film, whether it is in a game situation or on the practice field. He takes the "practice like you play" mantra to heart.
Everybody should be encouraged that at this point in his career, Dez Bryant is still looking at ways to improve his game and seek help. Hopefully, working with a well-known receivers coach like David Robinson can take Bryant's game to the next level.
You may not know who David Robinson is (I certainly didn't), but he is well respected around the league and has helped other receivers under his tutelage. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Reed, and even Cowboys former WR Brice Butler have all benefited from Robinson's coaching.
Dez Bryant has always been regarded as one of those types of receivers who is always open regardless how tight the coverage is around him. His ability to go up and snag the ball out of the air is arguably his best trait, but he could become more dangerous if he can create separation on his own with better route-running.
Unfortunately, Bryant is entering the stage in his career where age becomes a factor and some regression is to be expected. This is why improved route-running could improve any deficiencies Bryant maybe dealing with.
But, what exactly will David Robinson be working on with Dez Bryant?
Robinson told Jane Slater that in his workouts with Dez Bryant, he will concentrate on the expansion of Bryant's route tree, shaking defenders at the line of scrimmage, and improving footwork technique to compensate for any natural loss of speed due to age.
I don't know about you, but I'm actually looking forward to seeing how Bryant responds to Robinson's coaching, hopefully still as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
We all know that Bryant's status with the Cowboys is unknown, at least to those of us on the outside looking in, but I don't see him going anywhere in 2018. There just aren't any vet WRs or rookies who I can see replacing his production. Of course, I could be wrong.
One thing is for sure though, Dez Bryant isn't going to sit on his hands while he waits to find out what his future holds.
Do you think improved route-running will help Dez Bryant's game?
Want to help make Inside The Star better?
We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).
Star Blog2 days ago
Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?
Star Blog3 days ago
Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys Have Missing Piece at Offensive Line
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Mauricio’s 2018 NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Cowboys Steal Defensive Talent
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys 2018 Free Agency: What’s Left Before Market Opens?
Star Blog1 week ago
3 Former Penn State Alumni Cowboys Could Target in Free Agency
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Cowboys Defense: Bigger Need at Safety or Defensive End?
NFL Draft1 week ago
Final Cowboys Mock Drafts Before Free Agency Address Defensive Interior, Receiver