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Is Defensive End Still a Top Need for Cowboys?

Sean Martin

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Is Defensive End Still A Top Need For Cowboys?

With 38 team sacks in 2017, the Dallas Cowboys surpassed their 2016 total of 36 and turned pass rush into one of their strengths. With a career-high 14.5 sacks, Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence led the way as one of the most productive and consistent players on the whole roster.

Compiling just 11 sacks over their final eight games though, the Cowboys' defensive line may still be far from the game-wrecking force it could be with the addition of more young talent.

The Cowboys sack production in 2017 again came without much of an impact from the RDE position.

Benson Mayowa, last year's sack-leader from this position, finished with just one sack over the same volume of snaps in 2017.

First-round draft pick Taco Charlton originally started at right end, and later moved behind Lawrence at LDE to finish his first season strong with three sacks.

Tyrone Crawford also proved an effective player -- mainly against the run -- on the far-right side of the Dallas defensive line. It was effectively his third position in three years after going from 3T DT to LDE, and then across to RDE.

Slotted to pick 19th overall at the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, defensive end may still be one of the Cowboys biggest needs.

Signing Lawrence to a long-term deal with be a priority this offseason, as should adding real talent around him.

Cowboys en Español: El Futuro de David Irving y DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

There's no question Rod Marinelli's defense carried the offense through plenty of games down the stretch, the best they could as the team fell short of the playoffs. Looking to turn the corner thanks to investments made at the draft in the secondary last year, the Cowboys could quickly return to a league power should they sustain this defensive level.

Being able to force tight throws into coverage while being even better at pressuring the quarterback -- ideally, all while solving their offensive woes and putting up big totals again soon -- is the best way for the Cowboys to find themselves in the playoffs next season.

Pass rushers close out games, the best ones win their team games. Having already used a recent first-round pick at the position, the Cowboys can no longer sell their fans on untapped potential up front defensively.

The likes of Mayowa and Charles Tapper should be viewed only as ideal rotational pieces to rush behind another true starter that is lacking on this line.

In position to add a first round EDGE like Marcus Davenport, Arden Key, or Harold Landry should they choose to in April, the Cowboys continuing to win games with defense by making quarterbacking against them a nightmare could become a common sight.

With adjustments also needed on their star-driven offensive line, this is truly an offseason for the Dallas Cowboys to remember, games are won and lost in the trenches.

Tell us what you think about "Is Defensive End Still a Top Need for Cowboys?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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2 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    Of course its still a need. They stuggled with mobile qbs and they also struggled when Demarcus got double teamed. If your settled on Irving playing inside then you need another physical force on the edge opposite D Law to complement Taco either through free agency and/or the draft

  • Russ_Te

    Taco is a clear LDE and pretty much showed that down the stretch. I feel pretty good now about his development curve should Lawrence be sacrificed in FA. The anchor right now is Irving inside. That has to hold up, and then the DL can be built from there. Collins disappoints so far but he is still a young player, and might have another stage to his future game, like Lawrence did.

    Draft priority IMO:

    OL / OT
    WR
    RDE
    LB

    An impact player from one of those is likely to fall to the Cowboys. That’s who I take – best available

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys WR Michael Gallup is Team’s Most Important Rookie

Jess Haynie

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Will Rookie WR Michael Gallup Make an Immediate Impact? 1

Almost any other season, a team's first-round draft pick is going to be the most important rookie on the roster. Often, they are drafted to the position with the greatest immediate need. But for the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, third-round Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is the guy that the team needs most.

Dallas drafted Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last April's draft. In the second round they took Offensive Lineman Connor Williams. The Cowboys hope both will have starting roles on this year's team.

But given the other talent at those positions, it's receiver where Dallas most needs a rookie to excel.

For Vander Esch in 2018, his ceiling is probably to start in the base 4-3 defense and then rotate in the nickel scheme. That means pushing Damien Wilson to the bench, but still having to push for reps with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith when the team only has two linebackers on the field.

That's no small role, and especially if Leighton end up as the starting middle linebacker. But Dallas, like most NFL teams, uses their nickel scheme more than any other.

Vander Esch's importance is almost more about potential injury to Sean or Jaylon, where he can hopefully step in and perform quickly. But if those two stay healthy, Vander Esch may not have a much bigger role than Damien Wilson did last year.

For Connor Williams, Being Shoulder to Shoulder with Tyron Smith is Nothing New

Dallas Cowboys G Connor Williams

Second-round pick Connor Williams is going to get the first crack at being the team's new starting left guard. You could easily make a case that that's more important than the role Vander Esch will have this year.

But Dallas has a lot of options if Williams doesn't immediately excel.

They could flip Right Tackle La'el Collins back to guard and try Connor at his college position of tackle. They might also start veteran Cameron Fleming at RT and make Williams a versatile reserve.

Dallas also has veterans Chaz Green, Joe Looney, and Marcus Martin on the roster competing at guard.

These options make Williams' success less critical to the 2018 Cowboys. As with Vander Esch, there's a cushion for if the rookie doesn't show up right away.

Given the state of things at receiver, Michael Gallup doesn't have that same cushion.

Cowboys Offense Finds Rhythm to End Minicamp, Hurns and Gallup Stand Out 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Without the rookie, Dallas has Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Deonte Thompson, as the only established players on the WR depth chart. Each one has a red flag.

Hurns has never succeeded as the top receiver in an offense. His best years in Jacksonville were when Allen Robinson was WR1 and Hurns could do damage with less attention. He needs other guys to keep defenses honest to be effective.

The same goes for Beasley, who had a strong season in 2016 but then wilted last year when teams realized he was the bigger threat than Dez Bryant or Jason Witten. Cole was effectively taken out by opposing defensive coordinators, dropping to the fourth on the team in catches.

Terrance Williams is the guy Dallas probably wish they could cut but whose contract makes it unprofitable. His recent personal issues, on top of years of underwhelming play, don't inspire confidence that he can help balance the offense.

Deonte Thompson broke out a little with the Buffalo Bills last year despite their overall passing issues, but he's 29 and didn't do anything between 2012-2016. He's a vertical threat who might help in some situations, but is doubtful as a major piece of the offense.

This is why Dallas needs Michael Gallup to show up right now. Without some new spark in the passing game, next season could be unfortunately similar to 2017.

While a full season from Ezekiel Elliott will hopefully make life easier for Dak Prescott this year, the Cowboys' quarterback still needs receiver who can make defenses nervous. None of the players we just talked about will do that, lacking the cache of Bryant or Witten from a few years ago.

 

While a full season from Ezekiel Elliott will hopefully make life easier for Dak Prescott this year, the Cowboys' quarterback still needs receiver who can make defenses nervous. None of the players we just talked about will do that, lacking the cache of Bryant or Witten from a few years ago.

Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Of course, we recognize that Michael Gallup is just a third-round draft pick. Expecting him to come in and immediately change the fortune of the offense could be asking way too much.

That doesn't change need, though. Dallas can afford for Leighton Vander Esch or Connor Williams to take a year to develop. But if Gallup doesn't show up right away, we could see a lot more of guys not getting open and Prescott getting flustered.

Hopefully, the absence of Dez and Jason this year will make the Cowboys less predictable. It will keep defenses guessing enough to help all of these players take advantage.

But nothing will help more than an infusion of new, exciting talent. If Michael can make an early impact, teams will have to adjust. That will open the door much wider for his teammates.

Again, it may be asking too much. We get that.

But that's reality for the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. They just lost two future Ring of Honor members from the passing game and the two most targeted players from last year's offense.

Do you really want Terrance Williams trying to fill that void? Of course not.

While Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, or even fourth-round rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz could make major impacts on the 2018 Cowboys, there is less risk if they don't. It's at receiver where Dallas suffers most if their rookie addition doesn't perform.

Therefore, for 2018, Michael Gallup is the most important rookie on the Dallas Cowboys.



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Dallas Cowboys

Is Cowboys ST Coordinator Keith O’Quinn Facing Most Pressure for New Coaches?

Sean Martin

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Is Cowboys ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn Facing Most Pressure for New Coaches? 1

Amidst an overhaul on offense that's seen the Dallas Cowboys hire new positional coaches at every position but running back, and a potential change of philosophy on defense with Kris Richard arriving as Passing Game Coordinator, new Special Teams Coordinator Keith O'Quinn may be the new Cowboys coach under the most pressure for 2018.

O'Quinn has big shoes to fill with Rich Bisaccia now on John Gruden's Oakland Raiders staff, the Cowboys ST Coordinator from 2013-2017. O'Quinn arrived in Dallas as a scout first in 2007, joining the coaching staff in 2010 but not working on special teams with Bisaccia until 2014.

The University of North Texas alum has always been regarded highly around the NFL, as O'Quinn served as the Director of Pro Personnel in Cleveland prior to getting on the Cowboys coaching staff.

It's almost certain that O'Quinn will have to put his scouting and personnel background to the test when influencing the Cowboys roster decisions on special teams. His unit will be a needed destination for talented players on the roster bubble, of which the Cowboys have plenty of at wide receiver, running back, linebacker, and even cornerback.

Where Rich Bisaccia was known for having his way in the Cowboys roster building to maintain a strong special teams unit, O'Quinn will have to be just as assertive and perhaps more diligent.

Players like Lance Lenoir, K.D. Cannon, Trey Williams, rookies Bo Scarbrough and Chris Covington, Duke Thomas, and Marquez White could all rely on being put in position to succeed on special teams by O'Quinn.

Should a player like Scarbrough make the cut as the Cowboys' final pick of the AT&T Stadium hosted 2018 Draft, his role as a compliment in the backfield to Ezekiel Elliott is the perfect depth to receive from a special teams contributor.

This is just one immediate example of the players the Cowboys are looking at to replace the departed Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber, two key ST starters lost in free agency.

Cowboys Roster: Who Are the "Best" Players on the Bubble? 1

Dallas Cowboys RB Bo Scarbrough

The Cowboys ranked 24th in yards per punt with Chris Jones last season, as the burden of turning around Dan Bailey's kicking misfortunes from 2017 also falls on O'Quinn. Bailey missed a career-high five kicks last year, a total he matched the year prior and in 2011.

In their own return game, it won't just be Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan trying to get the most out of Tavon Austin, as he'll serve as one possible replacement to Ryan Switzer.

Of course, it was Switzer's fumble against Austin's LA Rams in a week four loss that stands as a lasting image of the Cowboys shortcomings of 2017. Dan Bailey's missed fourth quarter field goal against the Seahawks, which all but assured that the season would end the following week in Philadelphia against the defending Super Bowl champions, is another special teams miscue for O'Quinn to think back to.

Is Cowboys ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn Facing Most Pressure for New Coaches?

Dallas Cowboys P Chris Jones, K Dan Bailey (Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports)

This year's Cowboys are not about looking back however, determined to defy the odds and contend in the NFC East despite flipping so much of their roster and coaching staff. When the Cowboys finally arrive in Oxnard, the anticipation for training camp will likely be met with some tense moments early, as new players and coaches adjust.

A coordinator that can't afford to have his head swimming in a new role is Keith O'Quinn. Not only does his special teams unit have to be built with the Cowboys talent level in mind, but they must perform at the standard Bisaccia set in Dallas as not only the former Special Teams Coordinator but Assistant Head Coach as well.

Tell us what you think about "Is Cowboys ST Coordinator Keith O’Quinn Facing Most Pressure for New Coaches?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?

Jess Haynie

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Michael Gallup

We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.

Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:

OFFENSE

Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.

For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.

La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.

Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?

Today, we'll focus on the offense.

Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley

QB Dak Prescott and WR Cole Beasley (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Wide Receiver

Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.

Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.

If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.

There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.

This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.

The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.

Blake Jarwin

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin (Kevin Terrell via AP)

Tight End

Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?

While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.

It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.

Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.

As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.

For Connor Williams, Being Shoulder to Shoulder with Tyron Smith is Nothing New

Dallas Cowboys G Connor Williams

Left Guard

Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.

As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.

Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.

Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.

But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.

~ ~ ~

As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.

Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.



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