Dallas' New Defensive Look Could Be Dangerous
By Kenny Decker
With Sean Lee out for the season, the historically bad Dallas Cowboys defense from 2013 lost its best player for this upcoming season. They Cowboys also lost their next two best defensive players from 2013 to free agency: DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. So what does 2014 have in store for this Dallas defense? Well, here’s a look at how their defensive group should line up opening weekend, barring any injuries before then:
Left defensive end: Georgie Selvie. Selvie stepped in nicely when Anthony Spencer went out for the season and when Ware was out with injuries. He’ll take on a bigger role this season.
Right defensive end: Demarcus Lawrence. Just a rookie, Lawrence will be relied upon heavily but he’ll be able to handle it. Adjusting to the NFL culture – more so than adjusting to the pro game -- may be Lawrence’s biggest challenge.
Left defensive tackle: Henry Melton. A product of Rod Marinelli’s system back in Chicago, Melton is eager to get back to his Pro Bowl form. Expect Melton to be a huge difference-maker in Dallas’ new-look front seven.
Right defensive tackle: Nick Hayden. This spot could be filled by either Hayden or Terrell McClain. Both will likely rotate in the spot, but Hayden should get the nod to start. He needs to step up as a run-stopper alongside Melton.
Left outside linebacker: DeVonte Holloman. Holloman is another player who saw more snaps than expected last season due to the Cowboys’ plethora of injuries. Like Selvie, he’ll take a bigger role and will need to play a variety of roles in both pass coverage and run-stopping.
Middle linebacker: Justin Durant. With Lee down, Durant will be called on the most. No one expects him to be Lee, but with Durant entering his eighth season in the league, his leadership will be important. Durant could be Dallas’ most important defensive player filling the role of Lee.
Right outside linebacker: Bruce Carter. Carter was one of Dallas’ biggest liabilities on defense last season, and he’s poised for a much improved 2014. The organization was looking to go a different direction from Carter in the draft but didn’t find the player it wanted. Carter is playing not only for a contract but also for a starting spot. Rookie Anthony Hitchens could put pressure on Carter if he struggles like he did last season.
Cornerback No. 1: Brandon Carr. Carr has not lived up to the five-year, $50 million contract Dallas gave him, but he’s determined to prove his worth this season. He has said he wants to “take over the league” in 2014. The Cowboys are sure hoping so, otherwise they might be looking at other options after the season. Carr needs to play up to his abilities this season.
Cornerback No. 2: Morris Claiborne. Claiborne has also disappointed, too, especially considering the moves Jerry Jones made to move up to draft him. To be fair to Carr and Claiborne, however, the defensive system last season had Dallas struggling to develop a pass rush — which exploited these two corners even more so.
Strong safety: J.J. Wilcox. With Dallas waiting for the seventh round to draft a safety, the Cowboys showed that they believe in Wilcox and Jeff Heath. They will be battling it out for the starting spot, but Wilcox should win it. He’s another player who underperformed in 2013.
Free safety: Barry Church. One of Dallas’ most consistent defensive players in 2013, Church will take on a bigger leadership role this season as he will look to bring this unit to a much higher competitive level. Church could also help in developing rookie safety Ahmad Dixon.
Important substitutes: Anthony Spencer, Tyrone Crawford, Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Hitchens, Amobi Okoye, B.W. Webb, Orlando Scandrick and Sterling Moore. If Spencer returns to his pre-injury form, he will be a huge asset in the front seven. Crawford, Mincey and Okoye will provide solid depth on the defensive line. Webb, Scandrick and Moore will all see plenty of snaps in different packages, and they need to be able to shut down slot receivers or halfbacks. Scandrick could put the pressure on Claiborne if he continues to underperform.
Clearly, plenty of players on Dallas’ defense came up short in 2013, but this will be a new season. With a different look and another year in the system, expect the defense to be much improved. As hard as this may be to see after last season, the Cowboys are very close to being a dominant defensive team in the league. There is loads of talent, and there is also a bunch of players who have a lot to prove. Players will be fighting for their spots and playing for future contracts.
Prediction for the season: Dallas is a top-12 defense. The Cowboys will go as far in 2014 as the defense takes them. That could surprise people.