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Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016

Yesterday I shared with you five offensive players that need to step up in 2016, and today I thought I would take a look at the other side of the ball and express what defensive players I think need to step up their game for the 2016 season. In 2015, the Dallas Cowboys defense under the guidance of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli performed admirably and actually kept the team in games that were close enough to win, if the offensive performance would have been a little bit better. The Cowboys lost a number of games by less than a touchdown and if they can carry that over into 2016, there is no telling how far the team may go. There are a lot of players that could have been mentioned on this list, but if these players can step their game in 2016, it should improve the overall play of the entire defense. Here are the five players I would like to see step up their game in 2016:

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016

Yesterday I shared with you five offensive players that need to step up in 2016, and today I thought I would take a look at the other side of the ball and express what defensive players I think need to step up their game for the 2016 season.

In 2015, the Dallas Cowboys defense under the guidance of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli performed admirably and actually kept the team in games that were close enough to win, if the offensive performance would have been a little bit better. The Cowboys lost a number of games by less than a touchdown and if they can carry that over into 2016, there is no telling how far the team may go.

There are a lot of players that could have been mentioned on this list, but if these players can step their game in 2016, it should improve the overall play of the entire defense.

Here are the five players I would like to see step up their game in 2016:

Rolando McClain, LB (6'4", 259)

Cowboys Headlines - Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016 5I can't tell you how frustrating it is at times to watch Rolando McClain play.  When he's on his game, he is one of the better linebackers in the entire NFL, but because of lack of focus or mental breakdowns, he tends to disappear at times.

This will be his third year with the Dallas Cowboys, but the first year he will be able to go  through a full off-season program. I'm personally hoping that this will help him be ready both physically and mentally when the season kicks off and that he can maintain that throughout the entire year.

There is no denying that he is a physically gifted player, but he needs to put everything together in order to raise the level of his game and help improve the entire defense. If he can finally put everything together, the Cowboys might just have the best linebacker duo in the entire league with him playing next to Sean Lee.

Tyrone Crawford, DT (6'4", 285)

Cowboys Headlines - Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016 4Tyrone Crawford makes this list mostly because of the high expectations I expected of him in 2015 after signing a long-term contract extension. He struggled through the majority of the season with a shoulder injury that hampered his effectiveness, but I am once again expecting big things from him in 2016.

Crawford plays the all-important 3-tech in Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defensive scheme and he is supposed to be a destructive player that makes plays in the backfield.

He only managed five quarterback sacks and 35 tackles in 2015, but he should be much more effective now that he is 100% healthy.

It will be interesting to see if he will remain at the 3-tech while Randy Gregory and  Demarcus Lawrence miss the first four games due to violating the league's substance and abuse policy, or if he is moved to defensive end. Either way, he needs to step up his game and prove that he was worthy of that contract extension.

Benson Mayowa, DE  (6'3", 240)

Cowboys Headlines - Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016 3Benson Mayowa is on this list because he was one of the few free-agents that the Cowboys targeted during free agency to help improve the pass rush and we all know the defense can use as much help in that area as possible.

It will be interesting to see how Marinelli decides to use Mayowa because he really doesn't have the size to be in every down defensive end, so he will more than likely be a pass rush specialist.

The fact that the Cowboys gave him a three-year contract suggests that they believe he can be a difference maker, but he will really have to prove that he can be effective with more playing time.

I think it would be reasonable to believe that he can get somewhere between five and eight quarterback sacks 2016 and that would greatly improve the performance of the defense.

Byron Jones, S (6'0", 199)

Cowboys Headlines - Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016 2Why do I have Byron Jones on this list? Well, after a rather impressive rookie season, the expectations that will be placed on him to step up his game in year two are extremely high.

It appears as if the Cowboys will be moving him to free safety full-time instead of playing him everywhere in the secondary, and honestly I like that move.

The Cowboys have really struggled finding a playmaking safety ever since Darren Woodson retired and I may be hoping for too much, but I think Jones could end up being a similar player.

I think he will only continue to get better, especially now that it looks like he will only have to focus on one position and learning the intricacies of playing that position.

I'm expecting big things from Jones in 2016 and if he can raise the level of his game, he could be a difference maker in the Cowboys secondary.

Orlando Scandrick, CB (5'10", 195)

Cowboys Headlines - Five Defensive Players That Need To Step Up In 2016 1The fifth and final player that I decided to include in this list is Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick makes this list because I think he provides something to the defense that was missing in 2015.

Scandrick has always played with a chip on his shoulder and that attitude is contagious. I'm hoping that the entire defense can catch this attitude and that it shows in their performance on the field.

Scandrick was the best cornerback on the Cowboys roster before his knee injury wiped out his 2015 season, and I'm expecting him to pick up where he left off. His value to the defense is undeniable since he can play both outside and in the slot, but that value goes way beyond his performance on the field.

He is a leader on the team and I think more than anything his presence in the meeting rooms and in practice can help improve the defense in 2016.

Well, there you have it. What defensive players do you think need to step up their game in 2016?

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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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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Dallas Cowboys

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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