As training camp opened, the Dallas figured out they have a very deep defensive line led by superstar pass rusher Micah Parsons. The same could be said about their secondary as tough roster decisions loom in the weeks ahead.
That made it easy to glance over the linebacker room and feel underwhelmed.
Once OTA's began, Leighton Vander Esch and Damone Clark were the presumed starters. We know what LVE is, and what he brings to the table. His availability for the season hinges on the unpredictable herniated disk in his neck.
Questions about the depth behind those players carried even more questions. The team spending limited resources on the position felt like the analytics department took over the facility too quickly and was becoming a glaring need.
After the Cowboys first preseason game, that room carries a different feel today.
Entering training camp, Clark was the unknown. The rookie fifth-round pick was found to have a herniated disk at the combine and sat out the first seven games of last season. His injury was found by a Cowboys team doctor who reported its similarity to the LVE injury.
The off-season was filled with hope of noticeable development and it certainly appears as if the seed will bear fruit. Although the sample size was small, Pro football focus issued a 78.8 grade to Clark. He recorded 3 tackles in 23 snaps.
Don't care for analytics? The eye test appears to carry a similar appeasement of his performance.
The Cowboys are deeper at linebacker than fans realized.
It seems Clark is checking all the boxes, but he isn't the only one.
The team drafted DeMarvion Overshown in the third round, but the former University of Texas safety- turned-linebacker came with questions of his own. His missed tackles and fit within this scheme left some scratching their heads.
That doesn't seem to be a concern, as his athletic ability was on full display Saturday night. Those tackling concerns coming out of college don't appear to be a problem anymore. Overshown was given an overall PFF grade of 70.4, but his tackling grade came in at 80.9 with only Markquese Bell grading out higher throughout the team.
It doesn't end there.
Jabril Cox looks to rebound after not looking the same last season after recovering from a torn ACL. Now almost two years removed, Cox didn't appear as hesitant as he was most of last season. He was the ninth-highest-graded Cowboys defender against Jacksonville.
The eight highest graded defender? Linebacker Devin Harper.
Harper's athleticism has never been a problem. The questions surrounding him have always been about his size. Harper recorded a team-high nine special teams snaps in the game and graded out as the seventh-best special teams player.
Making the team is more than just playing your position.
After 20 snaps, linebacker Malik Jefferson left the game with an undisclosed lower leg injury. Jefferson just happened to receive the highest grade on the entire roster with an eye-popping 89.9 PFF grade.
Yes, this is preseason, but projecting what players can do on the field is crucial to confidence and development. While some may still want to add another player at the position, this group is deeper than we think.
What was once a position of curiosity and need now feels like a final piece to the defensive puzzle.