The Dallas Cowboys were unable to make it past the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the playoffs last season mainly due to one glaring issue: Their defense was unable to get pressure on an injured and hobbling Aaron Rodgers. But getting to opposing quarterbacks was the Cowboys weakest link in 2014. Finishing 28th in sacks last season, Dallas’ front office was determined to find this defensive line more talent in the offseason.
And according to one NFL analyst, they succeeded. In fact, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks named the Cowboys the most improved defensive line in the league. And that was mainly due to two controversial additions, and a second-year defensive end who’s growth was stunted last year.
"“For all of the accolades hurled in the Cowboys’ direction during their surprising run a season ago, the team captured the NFC East title despite fielding a defense that lacked star power along the front line,” Brooks wrote in an article that appeared on NFL.com on Friday. “While Rod Marinelli’s scheming and motivational tactics prompted a host of no-names to outplay opponents with energy and effort, the odds of duplicating that feat without upgrading personnel were slim at best. Thus explains the Cowboys’ decision to gamble on a pair high-risk/high-reward edge rushers in Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory.”"
The Cowboys added controversial defensive end Greg Hardy late in to free agency this offseason. By all accounts, Hardy has actually emerged as a leader of this revamped Dallas defense. Many are expecting the Pro Bowler to have a major impact on this team once he joins the team after his reduced suspension in Week Five. This despite not having played on a real NFL game in nearly a year.
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The other part of this new pass rushing one-two punch in Dallas is 2015 second round selection Randy Gregory. Despite failed drug tests and character concerns, the 22-year old has shown a great amount of maturity and ability during this offseason with Dallas. The young rookie has been humble, soaking up knowledge and heeding the advice of legendary Cowboys like Charles Haley, Randy White and Leon Lett.
It also doesn’t hurt that young pass rushing phenom lines up against the best left tackle in the NFL, Tyron Smith, during daily practice session. And Hardy is also whispering knowledge into the young man’s ear. Recording his first sack as a professional in the Cowboys preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, Gregory appears to be living up to his pre-draft top-ten talent hype.
"“Although he fell to the 60th overall pick, Gregory has already flashed big-time potential in Dallas and is impressing evaluators with his Simeon Rice-like traits as a pass rusher,” Brooks continued. “If he quickly develops as a situational player and DeMarcus Lawrence continues to grow as a young pass rusher, the Cowboys suddenly have a deep and talented rotation that will strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks around the NFL.”"
The last name mentioned here is defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who missed half of his rookie season due to a broken foot. But the Cowboys’ 2014 second round selection came on strong during the playoffs last year, recording three tackles, 2.0 sacks and one force fumble in two games. Adding both bulk and strength this offseason, Lawrence appears to be ready to continue the trend he started in the postseason.
Although this group looks much improved on paper, we will not actually get to see them at full strength until both Hardy and middle linebacker Rolando McClain join the team following their respective suspensions in Week Five. Still, being named the most improved defensive line before the season has even started should give fans a boost of confidence that the Cowboys defense may no longer be this team’s weakest link.