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Mailbag: Can The Defense Survive These 3 Suspensions? 2016-17 Pro Bowlers?
This marks the second year in a row that Rolando McClain has been suspended. His future with the team has already been in question. Where do they go from here? Does this team have enough players on defense to get them through the first half of the season, or do you believe they will sign one or two veteran free agents?
Bryan: The plan will be for them to go into training camp giving Anthony Hitchens, Andrew Gachkar and Mark Nezocha all the reps in practice and a couple of games. If one of these players steps up and takes the job then you have your starting MIKE. If none of them look like they can carry the job, then the front office will look to make a deal for a player on a team that has a surplus at the position. You have trading pieces in draft picks and players to make that type of deal happen.
Rob: I think they go to training camp and see how things shake out with the linebackers on their current roster. They know Anthony Hitchens can play the middle. They have a young guy, Mark Nzeocha, with the tools to do it, but he would need reps. Can’t count out a free agency addition at some point, though, especially if injuries become a factor at some point. That’s the issue with McClain, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence all facing suspension – it’s essentially like losing three key players to injury before camp even starts. Regarding McClain, I could see the team’s viewpoint being that he can return in late November and still help this defense make a playoff push in December if he can get in shape coming off suspension. But the first game he’s eligible to return – Thanksgiving – will be on three days’ rest and a very light practice schedule for the team.
Which NFC East has the best pass rush and do you think Dallas will have any Pro Bowlers on this year’s defense?
Bryan: The Giants have done a nice job with the pieces they’ve added and the Eagles have a couple of players that can give you problems inside. Sean Lee is always your best bet to be that Pro Bowl guy. Interested to see if Byron Jones does something at safety turnover wise that would get him noticed.
Rob: I think the biggest challenge for the Cowboys’ offensive line will come from the Giants’ reworked pass rush. As for Pro Bowlers on this year’s defense, keeping Sean Lee at weak-side linebacker gives him a chance to get back to the all-star game again. Tyrone Crawford had Pro Bowl buzz last summer, and with a fully healthy season, he might be in the conversation. Under tackle and weak-side linebacker are the two highest-production spots in Rod Marinelli’s defense. Read