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Position Series: Next Year’s D-Line Tough To Predict

Posted Jan 6, 2014


(Editor's Note: This is the first of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2014 season. Today we examine the defensive line.)

Pressing Matters: We really have no idea what this group will look like at the start of next season. It might be safe to assume DeMarcus Ware is still there on the outside if he regains his health in the offseason and is ready to go to start next year, but the other three spots are still somewhat of a mystery. With Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer both free agents, there’s a possibility neither of them are back. George Selvie could once again start at defensive end opposite Ware and Nick Hayden may man one of the tackle spots again, but it’s possible

either of their starting spots get replaced. The Cowboys will also have to figure out if they want to use Tyrone Crawford, who missed the 2013 season, at tackle or end, and whether or not he’s a starter or rotational piece.

2013 Evaluation: More than 20 defensive linemen found their way onto the roster at some point from the start of the season to the last bitter defeat, including players who were put on injured reserve.  That’s telling of the kind of season the defense had to work its way through. The injuries started immediately in training camp, with season-enders to Tyrone Crawford, Anthony Spencer and Ben Bass, and that was just the beginning. The Jay Ratliff odd situation turned into him going to Chicago, while DeMarcus Ware got hurt early and never fully regained his form. It was hard to keep track of linemen considering how fast they cycled in and out of Dallas in an attempt to stay afloat despite numerous injuries. The bright spots had to be Hatcher, who finished with a career-high 11 sacks, and Selvie, who came to the team as a free agent in training camp and finished with a career-high seven sacks – the second most on the team behind Hatcher.

Need More From … : You can’t expect much more from Hatcher, who had an unbelievable season that many would argue was Pro-Bowl worthy, but it’s unknown where he’ll be at all next year. This team desperately needs more from Ware next year. He was unstoppable during camp and came out of the gates just as hot to start the year, but injuries wore him down and by the midway point of the season he was a different player entirely. Tyron Smith, who’d go on to have a Pro Bowl year himself, couldn’t handle Ware in the offseason. If it’s just a matter of him getting healthy, Ware could flip the script next year on those saying age is catching up to him. The Cowboys need that to happen if they’re to start getting consistent pressure. The defense also needs more, or at least something from Crawford, who started coming on at the end of his rookie season but missed all of last year after his Achilles injury. There are high hopes there.

Upgrades Needed: There’s going to be one huge void to fill on the inside if Hatcher isn’t back. Rod Marinelli preaches getting up the field, getting a rush and getting pressure, and he was the only interior player to do that consistently. If Hatcher wasn’t getting pressure, this line wasn’t getting pressure. They need at least one tackle on the inside capable of rushing the passer, and they could also use another pass rusher on the outside. Even if Selvie ends up starting again, the Cowboys need more depth across the line. This defense can’t survive if pressure’s not coming from this group.

By The Numbers:

  • Hatcher finished with a career-high 11 sacks. That mark was 6.5 more than his previous season-high.
  • Selvie never had more than 1.5 sacks in a season since coming into the league as a seventh-round pick in 2010. He finished the 2013 season, his first year with the Cowboys, with seven sacks.
  • After a remarkable seven straight seasons with double-digit sacks, the 2013 season marked the first time since Ware’s rookie season he finished with single-digit sacks. He missed three games – the first three of his career – and finished with six sacks this season after starting the year with four in his first three games. 
  • Hayden played in all 16 games for the first time in his career since joining the league in 2008 as a sixth-round pick of the Panthers. He forced a fumble and recovered a fumble for the first time in his career.
  • Everette Brown rejuvenated his career in Dallas, joining the team midway through the year and recording his first sack since 2010. Jarius Wynn also joined the Cowboys after the season began and recorded a sack, serving as one of the few linemen to come midway through the year and stick with the team as a key rotational piece.

Scout’s Take:

Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys’ current DL situation:

When Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli took this job a year ago, what they envisioned their defensive line to appear as was DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer. Little did Kiffin and Marinelli know … (Read more here)

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