The second half of the 2017 season has left much of Cowboys Nation questioning just how good this roster actually is. Fans are now wondering very loudly if Dak Prescott really is the quarterback of the future, if Scott Linehan deserves to still be employed, and if there is enough talent in the receiving corps to threaten opposing defenses.
And, for the most part, rightfully so.
The Cowboys faltered weekly offensively during Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, and things didn't get better when he did return against Seattle. While I still sit firmly on the Dak Prescott bandwagon, 2018 remains a “prove-it” year for much of the offensive personnel and coaching staff.
But for the first time in a long time, we enter a new season with hope on the other side of the ball. For years, it has been the defense which has “failed” great Cowboys offenses. During the 8-8 years we often saw heroics from Tony Romo and the offense, only for the opposing team to have one last possession to win the game.
For far too long the Cowboys secondary has been average at best, their linebackers have been inconsistent (besides Sean Lee), and their pass rush has been nearly nonexistent. But while the offense faltered at the end of 2017, the defense shined.
And this defense, with the right development and decisions, is very close to being at the top of the league.
Of course there is the pass rush. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence the Cowboys defensive line was able to cause disruption all throughout the 2017 season, and with David Irving returning healthy and available things should be the same this season. Taco Charlton has another year of work under his belt as well, and if Randy Gregory can get reinstated this defensive line is suddenly a scary unit for opposing offenses.
In the back end the Cowboys have completely revamped their roster, and now look to begin to take their final form. By hiring former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, the Cowboys are beginning to fit their players to their coaches to create a long and athletic secondary group.
Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones could play the roles of 2013 Seattle cornerbacks in a movie about their Super Bowl run, and hopefully they can emulate their play style on the actual field as well. Jourdan Lewis possesses the versatility to play in the slot and on the outside, Xavier Woods has a chance to be this team's future free safety, and both Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier made strides in 2017.
While the Cowboys were shoring up the two most important position groups on a defense over the past few years, they've also made an attempt to turnover their linebacker group as well. Sean Lee remains the glue that holds the unit together, but the Cowboys have made an effort to improve their linebackers this offseason.
Of course, they drafted Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 draft, but Jaylon Smith's development will be vital to their success as well. Both of these players are fast, athletic, and rangy when at their best, giving the Cowboys some flexibility in their front seven.
The Cowboys made smart, cost-efficient moves to improve their offense this offseason, and I am certainly hopeful in the development of quarterback Dak Prescott.
But for the first time in a long time, when Cowboys fans look for a reason to be excited about the upcoming season, they may want to look at their defense first. Because the front office is in the middle of building a monster unit.