Despite the influx of young talent, this unit could be the Dallas Cowboys downfall in 2016.
The weakest link in the Dallas Cowboys 2016 campaign is expected to be their defense. With three of their potential starters suspended for portions of the upcoming regular season, it’s easy to understand why.
Focusing specifically on the Cowboys defensive line, both defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory were suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy earlier this offseason. Since that initial punishment was levied, Gregory has failed yet another drug test and appears to be up for a much longer suspension.
With both pass rushers out, the Cowboys will likely place an almost entirely new group of starters on the field when they kick off their season Week One against an NFC East rival, the New York Giants. And that could be potentially devastating for a team coming off a 4-12 season ending record in 2015.
When asked during a recent interview during Cowboys training camp, Dallas defensive coordinator confirmed this is the most inexperienced defensive line he’s ever had to coach. Red flag. Marinelli also shared how he intends on getting them prepare for the monumental task at hand.
"“You have to make sure you’re not putting these men in position where they’re going to fail. I think that’s pretty important,” Marinelli told a group of reporters via DallasCowboys.com. “So, at times some of our pressure game can help us….We’re active and we’re athletic guys, so our movement package has always been good for us on first down. So, those are the things that can help us. But at the end of the day, they gotta go play, I gotta coach.”"
The Cowboys brass are betting the season on Marinelli’s ability to get the most out of average players. But starting the season with potentially three new starters along their defensive line may be even too much ask for Dallas’ defensive guru.
My projected Cowboys defensive line has restricted free agent Benson Mayowa at right end, David Irving or Ryan Russell at left end, and defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton in the middle. Specifically, Crawford at the three technique and Thornton at the one.
Just looking at these five players, Mayowa has yet to practice in pads following a minor knee scope this offseason. He’s started three games during his three years in the league…and now he is on his third team.
Irving played defensive tackle during his rookie season in Dallas. After a good initial start, he pretty much disappeared. While Russell, the Cowboys 2015 fifth round pick out of Purdue, played all of one game last year before landing on IR in early December.
Crawford is coming off a shoulder injury that limited his performance last season. While Thornton was signed as a free agent from Philadelphia this offseason. But a recent illness has plagued him throughout the start of training camp causing the touted run-stopper to apparently lose a good amount of weight.
All of this negative news about the defensive line points to the Cowboys struggling early on that side of the ball. And with Dallas’ first two games of the upcoming regular season against divisional rivals (New York Giants, Washington Redskins) any sort of misfire by this inexperienced defensive line could be very costly.
There is very little doubt that the lack of experience along this young defensive line could be the cause of yet another disappointing season for Cowboys fans.