We’re liking three young and rather beefy additions to the line of scrimmage for the Cowboys beyond their first round selection, at least based on their play so far this offseason.
- Undrafted free agent Davon Coleman, a 6′ 2″ 297-pound under tackle
- Seventh round selection Ken Bishop, a 6′ 1″ 309-pound 1-technique tackle
- Undrafted free agent Ronald Patrick, a 6′ 1″ 318-pound guard/center
All three players add unexpected skills, youth, and power on both sides of the line – and all three could end up on the eventual 53-man roster, if they keep improving during training camp and the remaining preseason games.
Davon Coleman may be the most surprising, maybe because he was a bit overshadowed by a fellow lineman at Arizona State University. While Will Sutton garnered a draft grade as an Arizona State defensive lineman, it’s Coleman who could end up having the best NFL career. Not only are the Cowboys in great need of a defensive tackle who can rotate with former Pro Bowler Henry Melton at the 3-technique (or under tackle, to use defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s preferred terminology), like other teams, they covet position flexibility. And Coleman can play the nose tackle position as well if needed.
So, while the quality of defensive linemen remains a huge question for Cowboys fans and management, who would have thought just a few short months ago that the team could be looking at such a young and stout group of defensive tackles? For reasons only Cowboys management can understand (and, let’s face it, they’re the only ones who really count), 28-year-old defensive tackle Nick Hayden remains a key factor on the interior defensive line for the Cowboys. But when you add Coleman, Bishop, Melton, 26-year-old free agent acquisition Terrell McClain, and 24-year-old Ben Bass to the mix, you can feel better about the defensive tackle rotation. And while the jury’s still out on the possible return of Josh Brent, something that looks to be pretty likely, that’s as many as seven tackles vying for between four and five interior spots.
No matter who goes, you can make a case that there’s more talent at the defensive tackle position at this time this year than the Cowboys had at the beginning of last year (yes, we’re including Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, and both of their personalities).
There is definitely less age, seemingly a much greater team ethos, and – thus – greater upside in our view. And while the team doesn’t look nearly as strong at defensive end (especially given DeMarcus Lawrence’s injury, and the fact that Tyrone Crawford looks more like a tackle than an end – strong side or otherwise), you have to admit that the defensive line overall has improved at least a little. Add to Marinelli’s new-found rotational “waves” concept an early round draft choice at strong side end next year, and perhaps a 2015 mid-round weak side end to push Jeremy Mincey off the roster, and the Cowboys would have dramatically improved their rushmen only two short seasons after bidding farewell to two talented interior linemen who – for whatever reasons – seemed to put their own individual interests ahead of the team’s.
And we’ve already pointed out how strong the offensive line is looking – especially the starters – but Patrick’s ascension could really help shore up a real depth concern. Regardless, the Cowboys haven’t finished drafting linemen on both sides of the ball. Look for at least one more tackle and guard on offense next year and at least two and possibly three more rushmen next offseason, before we can call the rebuilding process successful.
But there’s no doubt 2014 has provided some strong young building blocks for the trenches going forward.