IRVING, Texas** – 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 that the group that he played the majority of the season with was only half of that projection.
Of the four starters coming into camp, Hatcher was the one that had the most question marks next to his name but in the end, he was the most consistent. His 11 sacks were the most by a Cowboys defensive tackle since Randy White in 1984. Playing as the three technique he thrived in this scheme and when he wasn't on the field, it was clear that this group struggled to find any type of a pass rush. Spencer performed well in a contract year for him but with his age consideration and the dollars that he could demand, his services will most likely be seen with another club.
Coming out of Oxnard, I was convinced that Ware had turned the clock back five years and in this 4-3 scheme as an edge rusher he was well on his way to another double digit sack season, but that wasn't the case at all. Ware was once again robbed of some of his effectiveness due to various injuries throughout the season. But there were also games where Ware, even when healthy, was not the same player that we had seen from seasons past. What will be interesting for this front office and coaching staff if they look at his work these past two seasons and determine that they might have to take the same approach that they did with Doug Free and reduce his salary.
If there was a surprise player on this defensive line, it had to be George Selvie, who Will McClay and his pro staff found off the street when it appeared that Anthony Spencer would not be ready to start camp and Tyrone Crawford was injured in the opening drills. Selvie started 16 games as the strong side defensive end on this club and ended up with seven sacks which was one more than Ware. Next to Hatcher, Selvie was the best linemen in this group. There were times where I thought he would have struggled against the run because of his size and early in the season, that was the case but the more he played, the better he got. With the club getting a two year deal on him before the season, he will once again be in the mix for a starting spot in 2014. [embedded_ad]
Nick Hayden was another one of those finds from the pro department when there were health questions about Ratliff and Ben Bass was struggling with the position. Hayden was never the prettiest when it came to playing technique but at the one technique, he was more than serviceable. He too struggled at times with an injured shoulder but you could tell that he was gutting it out and was doing everything in his power to play at a solid level. Hayden was not the type that gave you much on the pass rush but what was strange at times he would draw double teams and that would allow Hatcher to have single blocks. Like Selvie, the front office got a 2nd year on him as well. Could see him more as a backup and rotational player than a starter.
If there was a bright spot among all the injuries that this defensive front had to endure, it was that they got the opportunity to look at several different combinations at both the tackle and end. This is where I felt like that Rod Marinelli, Leon Lett and the scouting department did their best work. The front office kept bringing in players and these coaches kept coaching them no matter the situation and it appears that in the long run, there might actually be some players that could help with the depth next season.
When you talk to the scouts, they will tell you that they have high hopes for guys like Martez Wilson, Everette Brown and Jarius Wynn playing as defensive ends. They also really like what they were able to see with Frank Kearse and Caesar Rayford as well at tackle. With an entire camp at end, Wilson could develop into a dynamic pass rusher. Along with Brown, they have that explosive first step quickness.
Wynn was the most versatile playing both on the strong and weak side but also taking some reps as a nickel defensive tackle. Kearse might not be the perfect fit in what Marinelli thinks a one technique should be with his overall quickness but he is something they surly could use going forward and that is a large body that plays sideline to sideline.
The player I was surprised that didn't show more after watching him play during the preseason in Indianapolis was Rayford. There were games where Joe Thomas and Justin Pugh really struggled to block him but we didn't see that type of production once he arrived in Dallas. Rayford like Wilson, Brown and Wynn will all get a nice look in camp and that player could once again appear.
Looking ahead, there is a good chance that this group will see a complete makeover once the NFL Draft comes and goes. There are some solid pieces in place when you talk about help with the depth but some big time starters are needed. There are now money concerns with Hatcher and the health of Ware, so this area will be addressed much like the front office did by drafting Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick to get it back on track.