Who will step up at defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys this summer?
Due to several issues, the Dallas Cowboys will have plenty of snaps to go around at defensive end this summer. Who will benefit from the most from them?
Many believe the defensive end position is one of the deepest on the Dallas Cowboys entire roster in 2019. But there are likely more lingering questions about the unit than any other on the entire team. And it starts with last year’s starters, who aren’t expected to participate at training camp.
War Daddy DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off shoulder surgery after inking a monstrous five-year, $105 million contract this offseason. Lawrence will likely start training camp on the PUP list and isn’t currently a lock to even start the regular season. The Cowboys were surely slow pay the veteran’s return in an effort to protect their massive investment.
Randy Gregory, last year’s starter at defensive end opposite Lawrence, is currently on an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy once again. Although the Cowboys seem unusually confident he’ll return at some point, this is Gregory’s second indefinite ban for drug-related issues. There is no timetable for his return, if there will even be one.
With that in mind, Dallas traded for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn this offseason. But it is unknown whether the 29-year old will even start for the Cowboys come Week One as the team is expected to limit his minutes in an effort to save him for the long season. I would expect that limiting mentality to apply to both training camp and the preseason as well.
Tyrone Crawford could be joining Quinn on the sidelines this summer as the veteran will be turning 30-years old this season and entering his eighth year in the league. Crawford could also be facing a possible suspension by the NFL following his involvement in a bar fight back in March.
With both Lawrence and Gregory out plus Crawford and Quinn likely getting the veteran treatment, that should leave plenty of opportunities and snaps for the other defensive ends on the roster to improve this summer. But which of the remaining defenders figures to benefit the most?
The obvious answer is Taco Charlton. The former first round disappointed in Year Two, earning himself a healthy scratch at one point last year. Entering his third and possibly final season in Dallas, everything is on the line of the 28th overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Like Charlton, 2018 fourth rounder Dorance Armstrong could use the extra experience after an underwhelming rookie season. Speaking of rookies, the Cowboys drafted two defensive ends in April. Fifth-rounder Joe Jackson and seventh-rounder Jalen Jelks will be vying for a roster spots this summer. The extra snaps will surely help them both, and DallasCowboys.com’s Nick Eatman recently predicted that Jelks will actually have an impact this upcoming season.
But I think the player who will actually shine the most this summer at defensive end is veteran Kerry Hyder Jr. The former Detroit Lion actually led the Motor City with 8.0 sacks three years ago. Undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2014, Hyder was a member of the New York Jets’ practice squad until the Lions signed him away in early 2016.
On the roster bubble in Detroit, a 3.0 sack performance in the final preseason game earned him a spot on the active roster. Hyder would go on to lead the team in sacks. An Achilles injury robbed him of a repeat performance in 2017. And last season, a head coaching change in Detroit relegated Hyder to playing just 15.5 percent of the defensive snaps.
The 6-foot-2, 270 pound Kerry Hyder figured to compete at defensive tackle in Dallas as a non-tendered restricted free agent signee this offseason. Instead, the Cowboys have been playing him at defensive end, which Hyder believes is his natural position. And according to reports, Hyder has shined this offseason as a disruptor with legitimate pass rush ability. I expect that trend to continue in training camp and the preseason as the 28-year old veteran continues to get more and more comfortable on his new team.