Dallas Cowboys: Defensive Preview – How bad will 2017 get?
The Dallas Cowboys revamped their weak secondary after losing cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency. None of the aforementioned players were special, but they contributed 39 starts, 254 tackles, five interceptions and 28 pass defenses last season. With little done in the way of improving these positions, it may be a safe bet that the defense will be the Cowboys’ weakest point.
As mentioned above, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox all left via free agency this summer. This left the Cowboys with the interesting question “what is next?” To address this question, the Cowboys signed Nolan Carroll. As of mini-camp though, it looks as though he finds himself down on the depth chart. Looking passed Carroll, the Cowboys drafted Chidobe Awuzi, and Jourdan Lewis to help fill in some holes in the secondary. Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Jeff Heath and Byron Jones are the only players left with any Dallas Cowboys experience. Byron Jones, coincidentally, is the only guaranteed starter in the secondary.
Linebackers and Defensive Ends
Sean Lee did not make the Pro Bowl, but instead, his reward was All-Pro honors for the first time. Lee, the defense’s only star, made 145 tackles and 12 tackles for a loss. Versatile Anthony Hitchens started every game at middle linebacker last season and made 78 tackles. The Cowboys could, and should move him to the strong side, where Damien Wilson started six times and Kyle Wilber once in the seven times in 2016 that the team did not open in the nickel. That is because the Cowboys expect Jaylon Smith, a second-round pick last year, to play in 2017 after a major knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame.
During the draft, the Dallas Cowboys went after some players who could potentially be the type of pass rusher they have not had since DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys had 36 sacks, five more than the previous season, but it marked the fifth consecutive season that they finished outside of the league’s top 10. They have not had a player with double-digit sacks since defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013. They drafted Taco Charlton in the first round, but he has not shown any indication that he can consistently rush the quarterback. He will instead join the rotation.
DeMarcus Lawrence, who showed promise in 2015 with a team-leading eight sacks, took a step back with one sack in 12 games last season. He had yet another back surgery in the offseason. David Irving has shown flashes but he has been suspended the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The Dallas Cowboys are expecting more from Tyrone Crawford, whether he stays at defensive end or returns to tackle. Defensive end Charles Tapper, a third-round pick in 2016, spent his rookie season on injured reserve. Malik Collins, who had a solid rookie season, and Cedric Thornton, who took a while to adapt to Rod Marinelli’s scheme, will play big roles inside, according to Athlon Sports.