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First Look At Cowboys Youthful Defensive Line

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines - Scary Situation at Defensive End 2

After months and months of speculation and anticipation, the Dallas Cowboys finally held their first practice of the 2016 season on Saturday.

Of course there was a lot to be excited about, most of which surrounded the offense. Tony Romo, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dez Bryant each give us a ton of reasons to be on the edge of our seats anytime this offense touches the ball.

The defense, however, has faced nothing but criticism since the offseason begun. It is also no secret which position group has been most critiqued on this team, the defensive line.

It is just about impossible to win in this league if you cannot get after the quarterback. It is also just about impossible to win in this league if you cannot stop the run. The defensive line plays a huge part in completing both of these goals, so being weak upfront is the last thing you want.

This much maligned defensive line finally got a chance to line-up and begin to show the public and the coaching staff what they have in store for 2016 yesterday. It was simply a walkthrough with no pads, however, so the actual play of these guys didn't mean too much. Where they lined up and who started with what group does have some meaning, though.

Jon Machota on Twitter

First team defensive line: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Ryan Russell

Even though he is facing a four game suspension to start the season, we all knew that DeMarcus Lawrence would be penciled in as the day-one starter at defensive end. He led the Cowboys in sacks a season ago, and will need to improve on his impressive final 8 games of 2015 in order for the Cowboys to take that next step.

Tyrone Crawford will be the Cowboys 3-technique for the entire season, barring injury, so no surprise there either.

The surprises begin on the other side of the defensive line, where the Cowboys must replace the suspended Randy Gregory and fill the vacant 1-technique defensive tackle position. At the opposite defensive end, it is second year player Ryan Russell who worked with the first team. Russell begins this season with a lot of promise and "upside," and has been given a vote of confidence by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Second-team defensive line: RDE Mike McAdoo, Jack Crawford, Cedric Thornton, LDE David Irving

David Irving worked with the second group at left defensive end, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he and Russell compete during camp. Many, including myself, have high hopes for Irving based off his athletic prowess and physical attributes, but it remains to be seen if that athleticism can translate into pass rush production on the field.

By the looks of things the battle for the starting defensive tackle spot is starting to heat up as well. Terrell McClain worked as the 1-technique with the first team, while free agent addition Cedric Thornton worked with the two's.

McClain has struggled with injuries during his tenure in Dallas, but when healthy, he makes the interior of the Cowboys defensive line even stronger than anticipated. Both McClain and Thornton are going to play a lot during the season, so the rotation of the two will be key.

Personally, I like Thornton better than McClain as the starter at this point, but there is still a long way to go before those final decisions are made. Still, considering the amount of money which Thornton was given this offseason, it seems strange that he isn't working with the first group from the get-go.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Post-Draft Edition (Part 2) 4

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain (97) reacts to an official's ruling during an NFL football game against the New York Giants on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys defeated the Giants, 31-21. (AP Photo/James D Smith)

Mike McAdoo and Jack Crawford filled out the right side of the second team defensive line. Crawford can play both as the 3-technique and as the defensive end, and this versatility will be key for the Cowboys as they deal with suspensions to Lawrence and Gregory.

There are obviously a ton of questions which must be answered by this defensive line. We can't be sure at this point that a pass rush can be consistently created, and only one of these guys even has 10 sacks in his career. But there are some good names in this group, including guys with a lot of youth, athleticism, and raw skills that the Cowboys are hoping can be developed quickly.

Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, and Maliek Collins should give you a lot of hope about the interior of this defensive line as well.

It's the beginning of a very long season, let's settle in and enjoy the ride that 2016 is going to be.

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Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and am currently a college student. Lets get going.

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Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury

Sean Martin

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Should Cowboys Start Negotiating a Contract Extension With Rod Smith?

Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith did not just defy all odds and return to normalcy in 2017, starting as the Cowboys' middle linebacker for a full 16 games. He became one of the team's and NFL's brightest success stories, earning the right to celebrate everyday activities returning to his life - as football did this season.

Jaylon Smith on Twitter

It's been two years since I've been able to bowl! Man it feels good to have my hobby back. #ClearEyeView #Swipe #StillGotIt! 210 average🤷🏾‍♂️🙏🏾 https://t.co/euVsXDKS2a

This is exactly what Jaylon Smith did on Twitter Friday afternoon, posting a Snapchat video of himself bowling. The caption on Twitter adds that Smith was enjoying his time at the lanes for the first time in two years.

It was January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon Smith's injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame changed his outlook forever. In that moment, Smith went from a projected top ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to a LB that would need a team to take a chance on him - and be patient.

The Dallas Cowboys proved to be that team, using the 34th overall pick on the Notre Dame star and supporting his efforts to return to the field from day one. The entire Cowboys' organization was rewarded by Smith remarkably playing every game this season, inspired by his constant determination to do just that.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

So, a normal offseason for Jaylon Smith is anything but right now. Still battling the drop foot condition (one that is reportedly healing well and "fading") which limits his movement ability in the lower body, Smith is a normal Dallas Cowboys football player from this point forward.

He can say he's already defined all odds, can expect to take an even bigger stride forward in 2018, and Jaylon Smith can go bowling again. You can't help but be happy for #54.

Tell us what you think about "Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Get Bigger Role in 2018?

Jess Haynie

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Noah Brown

While only a seventh-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, receiver Noah Brown was on the Cowboys' roster for all of his rookie season. He returns in 2018 hoping for a bigger role in Dallas' offense, and with some good possibility to get one.

Brown was not a big part of the 2017 offense. He was at the bottom of the WR depth chart, inactive for three games and not seen much even when in uniform.

Noah was only targeted nine times last year. He caught four passes for 33 yards.

Assumably, this had less to do with Brown and more with the other mouths to feed in the Cowboys passing game. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, even fellow rookie Ryan Switzer; you get the idea.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown

2018 should remove at least one of those obstacles to Noah Brown's opportunities. Brice Butler is a free agent and there is no indication he is coming back.

Everyone else is still under contract, but that could change if the Cowboys start making any cuts to improve the salary cap. Bryant, Beasley, and even Witten, with varying degrees of probability, are all considerations as cap casualties in the next few months.

In the 2017 preseason, the 6'2", 220-pound Noah Brown reminded us of a young Dez Bryant. He has the same thick body and even showed some of the same punishing running style after the catch.

Of course, Noah hasn't shown nearly enough in college or as a rookie to say he could replace Dez. Nobody's suggesting that. But he has flashed the potential to be given more looks in the passing game.

Another way Brown could get on the field more next year is for run blocking. He has the size and power, and the Cowboys will certainly be leaning on the run with Ezekiel Elliott back and Dak Prescott needing to find his groove again.

Even if he moves up a notch from Brice Butler's exit, Noah Brown's primary way of staying active in 2018 will be through special teams. That was the key for him last year; Brown was active for 13 games because of his special teams work.

Hopefully, Noah can work his way into more targets next season. The Cowboys' receivers need to get younger and a seventh-round pick emerging would be tremendous value.

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Dallas Cowboys Continue Search for Coaching on Defense

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Search for Defensive Coaches Continues

With the hiring of Doug Nussmeier as their tight ends coach, the Dallas Cowboys' new look coaching staff is technically filled out for the 2018 season. Head Coach Jason Garrett, with coordinators Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli underneath him once again, will lead this team into battle with new coaches at LB, OL, QB, WR, TE, ST, and in the secondary.

Despite most of their changes coming on the offensive side of the ball - where the Cowboys certainly under performed in 2017 - the Cowboys did lose one of their most highest regarded defensive coaches in Matt Eberflus this offseason.

Given their personnel on Rod Marinelli's side of the ball, the Cowboys may have actually upgraded in replacing Eberflus with Kris Richard. The Cowboys' young secondary is sure to remain a hot topic all the way until training camp, now being led by the architect of the Seahawks' vaunted "Legion of Boom".

Clarence Hill Jr on Twitter

Cowboys are not done with coaching hires. Still trying to add defensive quality coach, per source

With Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli potentially entering his final season in the NFL though, the Cowboys' search for talented coaches on the defensive side of the ball is reportedly not yet over.

Already promoting a former quality control coach in Ben Bloom to fill Eberflus' role as linebackers coach, the Cowboys' commitment to finally building a top defense is exciting for Cowboys Nation. Another solid draft haul on this side of the ball could turn any spot on the defensive coaching staff here into a highly coveted one.

Not only having the talent in place to return to the playoffs in 2018, the Cowboys are looking to take full advantage of their current staff to secure a bright future for this young team in years to come.

Exactly who the Cowboys are targeting to hire remains unknown, but they did interview former DB Ray Horton prior to hiring Kris Richard. Horton carries six years of experience as a defensive coordinator, most recently holding the position in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys coaching staff changes:

It is also important to note that Marinelli, known as a defensive line specialist, still holds this positional coaching job - a unit the Cowboys should also look to add an experienced coach to. The next Cowboys DC may still be added to the staff this offseason, if not done so already with Richard the heir apparent at the moment for Marinelli.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Continue Search for Coaching on Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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