With a month left until the season opener, it appears the football gods have declared war on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line.
Less than two weeks into training camp and the Dallas Cowboys already face a tipping point along the defensive line.
The defensive end position learned of two casualties before camp even started.
Cedric Thornton (DT) has a strained hamstring that should hold him out for a brief time but is unlikely to threaten the opener.
The last thing Dallas needed was to lose Tyrone Crawford (DE) to a significant injury after his rock solid camp performance.
Fortunately Crawford only has a sprained ankle and may return before camp ends.
The good news is injured players still have a month to heal. The bad news is four games and a month worth of practices will likely produce additional injuries.
But as of today’s worst case scenario, playing New York without three key defensive ends is still tolerable for this roster.
THE THREE THAT MUST BE
Lawrence is the team’s best pass rusher and will start at right end. Benson Mayowa is a suitable back-up as he started there last year. Right end is set.
Collins is the star on the inside. His presence at the under tackle locks that spot down.
Thornton will likely return for the opener. Though his hamstring injury will clear the path for Stephen Paea to swipe his starting nose tackle spot.
Paea’s strength and up-field explosion has given Dallas’ Pro Bowl interior offensive linemen fits in practice. His pairing with Collins inside is golden.
As long as Lawrence, Collins, and Paea are healthy and starting in Week One, the Cowboys can mitigate the issues at left end.
YOUNG GUNS AIM TO THE LEFT
As expected, rookie Taco Charlton is far from a polished rush threat in the early days of camp. However his ability to hold point on the left side has shown up.
As long as Taco can hold his ground against the run, inconsistent pass rush can be offset by the other three capable rushers down the line.
Also, let’s not forget about Charles Tapper in his do-over rookie season. Tapper has shown flashes to capture the edge and will only improve this month.
Crawford may return for the opener, but if not Charlton and Tapper have enough pop to at least force a stalemate at left end.
The two suspensions and Crawford’s injury seem highly concerning on the surface. All three players will play key roles when they return.
However the absolute must is doing everything possible to guarantee Lawrence, Collins, and Paea take the field in Week One.
Once this is achieved Dallas will only have to trust one starting defensive line spot to an unproven player who wasn’t already the best option.