IRVING, Texas – Yesterday, I took a look at the offense's prospects following Organized Team Activities and minicamp. As everyone knows, the real question marks for this team reside on the defensive side of the ball – and even more questions arose during the last three weeks.
Here's a quick breakdown of the Cowboys' defense following OTAs and the June minicamp, complete with the prospects for training camp.
- *Defensive Line: *
There was no Henry Melton, George Selvie and until the last four practices, no Jeremy Mincey or Nick Hayden, but there was still plenty to observe with the players that were added through free agency and the draft.
What is clear about this position is that the front office was interested in adding as many bodies as possible to the mix in order to attempt to build a solid rotation going into the 2014 season. It was good to see guys like Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass, who had their seasons cut short by injury, once again on the field and moving well.
Rookies that stood out were DeMarcus Lawrence, Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop and Ben Gardner, who were getting productive snaps with the first and second lines. Lawrence has that look of a player that might be starting more sooner than later for this defense. The real standout for this group in my opinion was Terrell McClain, who took the majority of his snaps at the three-technique but has real possibility of starting at the one because of his disruptive style.
Martez Wilson might not like his current assignment of learning defensive end, but there were some snaps where, while lining up at either the left or right side, he had some nice pass rushes up the field.
The wild cards in this whole group might be Amobi Okoye and Anthony Spencer. If they both can get clear of their injuries, their veteran experience would bring more depth to the line.
The loss of Sean Lee was totally unexpected before the start of training, but in this league, no one feels sorry for you and as a team, you have to find a way to find a suitable replacement. I believe there are three different ways that they could handle his loss: look at the current players on the roster, trade during training camp or go out and sign a veteran player as a bridge to get them through the season.
The way the Mike sits at the end of these practices, is that Justin Durant is running with the first defense, with Anthony Hitchens, Dontavis Sapp and Orie Lemon splitting the other snaps. Another option would be to have DeVonte Holloman get some work there, but the defensive staff has kept him on the outside with the second group and he has been good there.
The linebacker that has looked the most comfortable in the way he played during the spring has been Bruce Carter. In 2013, Carter was a mess with his technique and understanding of where he fit scheme-wise, but he appears to have put all that behind him and taken a different approach to his responsibilities. Kyle Wilber appears to have the inside track to start at the opposite side.
Rookies Anthony Hitchens and Will Smith have been getting a great deal of work since they have set foot on the practice fields at Valley Ranch. To their credit, they have not looked lost or out of place at all in trying to prepare for training camp. I have to say that I am looking forward to seeing Smith play when the pads come on, because on college tape he showed a real nose for the ball.
- Defensive Backs: It was a slow start for Morris Claiborne to these practices -- not by his own doing but the trainers holding him out until they felt his was completely ready to go. Claiborne finally looks healthy and it showed in these practices. His movement and reaction in coverage was outstanding and he looks ready to compete with Orlando Scandrick, who currently the starter at that right cornerback spot.
Scandrick was quiet in these practices, but don't take that he played poorly, he just didn't have as many opportunities as the other cornerbacks. In observing these practices what I did notice is that Rod Marinelli was quick to jump into his nickel packages with Scandrick, Claiborne and Brandon Carr all on the field.
Speaking of Carr, he was another guy that had a quiet camp when it came to situations that happened on the field. What he has to feel good about is that it appears that Marinelli is going to play more to his strengths and that is with more man coverage. Where the battle is going to take place at corner will be at that fourth, fifth and sixth spot.
Much like what this front office has done at defensive line, there appears to be better depth at corner. Sterling Moore is the veteran, B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell, Dashaun Phillips and Tyler Patmon are all in the mix as well. If there is a player out of this group that will need to step up his game, it's Webb, because Phillips, Patmon and even Mitchell late in camp are going to push him hard.
At safety, the search for a starter opposite Barry Church will go into camp with J.J. Wilcox holding the upper hand, but Jakar Hamilton has turned a head or two. Jeff Heath has also received work with the second group and rookie Ryan Smith is ahead of Ahmad Dixon when it comes to understanding the scheme. Matt Johnson might be the most talent of the group but with his health always a concern, you have to take a wait and see approach.