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74) Are The Cowboys Secure With The Defensive Tackle Position?


IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full years removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding the team as they prepare for the 2013 campaign.

As we count down to camp, each day the writers of will take a different question concerning the roster. 

With 74 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., it's fitting to look at the defensive tackle position:

74) Are the Cowboys secure with their current defensive tackle position?

It was almost a given that the Cowboys would add a new run-stuffer to their roster during this spring's draft. Seemingly every mock draft and every radio segment debated the merits of the various defensive tackles available at different levels of the draft. It was a matter of when, not if, the team would address that need.

Except that wasn't case. Asked about the interior of his defensive line, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett wasn't just comfortable – he was confident.

"Obviously, we have some veteran players," Garrett said. "We have a lot of resources on our front four and we like those guys a lot, and we have some young players that have been starters for us."

The assumed starters are Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher, who have combined for 48 starts in the past two seasons. Ratliff only made six appearances last fall, but Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones anticipates the nine-year veteran to return to full health in 2013.

"He had possibly three different injuries last year, and he is farther down the road in his career, obviously, than he was three years ago, but we think that he's very sound physically," said Jones of Ratliff last week during a conference call with season ticket holders.

Behind the two veterans, though, the proven depth is questionable. Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lissemore are the obvious backups. Lissemore started six games because of Ratliff's injuries last year, and he's appeared in 26 total games in the past two years. Crawford got into all 16 games and made 20 tackles as a rookie, but he didn't manage a start or notch a sack.

In fact, Lissemore's six starts is the best statement for starting depth the Cowboys have. Backup Nick Hayden started 13 games during his career with the Carolina Panthers, but he hasn't started a game since 2010. 

There are certainly bodies on the roster. And it's important to note the presence of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer at defensive end, which will hopefully make life easier on the tackles. But Garrett's confidence in his defensive tackles could be put to the test if there are more injuries in 2013. [embedded_ad]

Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, there's really only one way to look at No. 74:

  • Defensive tackle Bob Lilly was the first draft pick in Cowboys history way back in 1961, and he is the only Dallas player to ever wear No. 74.
  • Known as "Mr. Cowboy," Lilly was the first of Dallas' many Pro Football Hall of Famers, and he was the first Cowboy inducted into the team's Ring of Honor.
  • Lilly set the franchise mark for Pro Bowl appearances with 11, and he added another seven All-Pro selections.
  • A member of the 1960s and 1970s All-Decades teams, Lilly helped the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl championship in 1972, highlighted by his famous 29-yard sack of Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese in the 24-3 win.
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