The Cowboys' Achilles heel for a while now has been penalties, so why should we be confident they can do it with Tyler Smith? I'm definitely optimistic that they can. What do you guys think? — MARK SOMMA / GAINESVILLE, VA
Nick: I think it's something to monitor for sure. On one hand, you wonder who in the AAC was giving him so many problems that he had to hold. On the other, I was told that his strength and ability to manhandle his opponent led to some of these holding calls. We're just going to have to find out. I bet he he'll have less penalties now that he's playing inside at guard. But we know that it can't continue to be a big problem because it hurt the team in 2021 and fixing penalties has to be a major priority this year.
David: I think playing inside will probably help him in that regard. There's so much less space on the interior, and while there are plenty of athletic freaks playing defensive tackle, I think you generally need to worry a lot less about losing step with a guy and a lot more about power. We know already that Tyler has size and power, so that should be something he adapts well to. I do wonder how quickly he can refine his technique to play tackle in the NFL, but hopefully he won't be asked to do that a lot right away.
I saw a question about big run stoppers. I like the idea of being stout in the run game; however, I feel the need is to be a complete defense and get off the field on third down. Where does this defense need to improve to get off the field?— NATHAN MATTISON / GLENS FALLS, NY
David: To be fair to them, this unit was already pretty damn good at getting off the field. Dallas had the second-best third down conversion percentage in the league last year, trailing only Buffalo. If they're going to maintain or improve, I have two thoughts. First is the obvious one: continue to get after the passer. With Randy Gregory gone, it's going to be on Dante Fowler Jr., Dorance Armstrong and De Williams to pick up the slack – not to mention Micah Parsons' continued excellence in that department. On top of that, it's not just the defensive line that plays a role in limiting the run game. Along with Parsons, it'd be big if Leighton Vander Esch and Jabril Cox can help in that department, forcing defenses into obvious passing situations as often as possible.
Nick: I thought they were good last year on third downs. Obviously that doesn't always carry over year to year but most of the players on defense are back, aside from Randy Gregory. Still, I don't always think of him as the guy that got them off the field. As long as they find a way to replace him adequately and the secondary continues to play at the same level, I have faith this defense will once again find a way off the field on third and fourth-down, getting the ball back to the offense.