Dallas Cowboys defense still another year away from relevance
Despite three straight second round selections on the defensive side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys will have to wait another year for those picks to pay off.
When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys defense, patience is key. The Cowboys have used several high draft selections to aid a struggling unit that is slowly climbing out of the basement after finishing dead last in total defense in 2013.
To help solve those issues, the Cowboys last three second round selections have been Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (2014), Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory (2015) and Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith (2016). While the latter deals with a knee injury that will likely have him sidelined all year, both Lawrence and Gregory are scheduled to be suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Lawrence missed half of his rookie season due to a foot injury. After a slow start to his sophomore campaign, DeMarcus recorded 7.0 of his 8.0 sacks in the final eight games of last year. Expected to miss the first four contests of his third year as a pro, pending an appeal, Lawrence is likely destined for another slow start in 2016.
Gregory had a promising preseason in Dallas last year, posting 3.0 sacks in three preseason appearances. But a high-ankle sprain he suffered in his Week One debut against the New York Giants sidelined him for several weeks and he never played like the same afterwards. Although it appears Gregory has regained his previous form during OTAs this offseason, the 23-year old’s drug problem has once again reared it’s ugly head.
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Due to a failed drug test he received at the league’s Scouting Combine last February, the impressive pass rusher tumbled out of the top ten during the 2015 NFL Draft until the Cowboys caught the falling star in the second round with the 60th overall pick. Despite promises of self-rehabilitation, Gregory has failed three more drug tests since pointing to a very serious problem. It would be unwise to expect anything substantial for the young player until he can get control of this issue.
With Lawrence and Gregory scheduled to miss the first month of the season, expect slow starts from both essentially wasting the first half of the season. Smith is unlikely to make an appearance this year at all. If he does, he’ll have had zero offseason training to draw from.
Finally, the Cowboys top drafted defender who can actually play this year, third round pick out of Nebraska Maliek Collins, broke his foot during an OTA session. Although Cowboys head coach believes the talented defensive tackle could be back in time for training camp (10-12 week prognosis), it’s likely the rookie will be slowly progressed back and will be struggling to catch up whenever he does return.
Here’s the point: The Cowboys are likely another year away from being relevant on the defensive side of the ball. Unless unknowns like Benson Mayowa, Ryan Russell and Charles Tapper turn into instant stars, this Cowboys defense will once again be the team’s weakest link. The Cowboys will likely pin all their hopes on rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and Dallas’ offensive line to control time of possession in games, thus keeping their suspect defense off the field for a long as possible.
Next season, hopefully with Lawrence, Gregory in the mix from day one, defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford in the middle, Smith at the Mike, Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee at the Weak, Byron Jones at free safety and another one or two high draft picks added to the roster; the Dallas Cowboys defense could finally be an actual reason for the team’s success.
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