As many of you probably already know, when it comes to representing Cowboys Nation, I fall well on the optimistic side more times than not. While the four-win 2015 season certainly drained my optimism a bit, I’ve had no issues with the way this team has gone about trying to remedy 2015 by preparing for a resurgence in 2016.
In place of the flashy signings that fans were begging for, they’ve put more of an emphasis on re-signing their own talented guys. Morris Claiborne, Kyle Wilber, and Rolando McClain will all return to a defense that welcomes back Orlando Scandrick alongside a full strength Tyrone Crawford.
Cedric Thornton was brought in from the rival Eagles to upgrade the 1T defensive tackle spot, which will only further improve the production Rod Marinelli gets from Crawford on the defensive line along with the likes of David Irving.
Sticking with the defense, the one area of concern that fans can legitimately worry about is the defensive end position. While a combo of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory is certainly exciting, Gregory will miss the first four games of the year due to suspension – leaving the team to plan for a future that does not involve their 2015 second round pick.
In the absence of Gregory, the Cowboys starter across from Lawrence would currently be Ryan Russell. Russell may be a guy that someday develops into a solid piece of the defense, but for now is an unproven starter.
That said, did we really want to pull a New York Giants and give Olivier Vernon $85 million? The 12-4 Dallas Cowboys of 2014 got 6 sacks from Jeremy Mincey and 3 from George Selvie – while both created constant pressure. Mincey is still a free agent that could return to Dallas, along with Jack Crawford.
A defensive end rotation of Lawrence, Gregory, Mincey, and Russell is not going to take the league by storm, but if paired with a rookie like Joey Bosa or Ronald Blair, this unit could certainly get the job done for the Cowboys.
A big part of the reason that I have faith in this defensive line is thanks to the style of offense that the Cowboys will hope to play in 2016. As we all just learned the hard way, this team is centered around Tony Romo. With Romo back, the offense can once again dominate games and more importantly take the lead early in games.
The Dallas defense is, from a tactical standpoint, built to play with the lead – and that is hopefully what they will be doing a lot of this season. After forcing offenses to play catch-up against them, the Cowboys defensive line can get after quarterbacks like they did in 2014 without that superstar presence.
This will be a very refreshing site to see on defense, as opposed to the way opposing offenses were able to completely control the game against the Cowboys this past year.
Of course, the team’s off season on the offensive end has not gone without some exciting moves either. Earlier today, Lance Dunbar agreed to a one-year deal to stay in Dallas for 2016. While Dunbar played just 4 games in 2015 before a season ending injury, the limited time he saw with Romo at quarterback led to some explosive plays.
If Dunbar can stay healthy for 16 games, pairing him with Darren McFadden at running back behind Romo will allow the Cowboys to get back to their dominant, clock-killing, smash mouth football ways while simultaneously opening up the passing game for a healthy Dez Bryant and Co.
With the draft quickly approaching, I hope Cowboys Nation can collectively begin to gain more hope for 2016. Will McClay along with Stephen and Jerry Jones know what they are doing, and want nothing more than a Super Bowl in the coming years for veterans such as Romo and Jason Witten.
I’m not guaranteeing that Super Bowl 51 will be the time for the ‘Boys to raise the Lombardi, but I’m optimistically ready to watch them try to play their way to Houston and prove a lot of people wrong – some Cowboys fans included.