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Mailbag: Fixing The Defense Up The Middle?

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It looks like we have addressed the defense up the middle, in the draft and free agency. Do you think this will enhance play on the outside (CB, DE and OLB)? This was always a thing with Tom Landry who always had great defenses. —  CLARENCE WEBSTER / MILFORD, MA

Rob: That's the goal. The biggest problem last season, in my opinion, was losing the line of scrimmage up the middle. Way too many rushing yards before first contact, making things tough on the linebackers. Way too much second-and-short, third-and-short. I agree they've made an effort to upgrade the run defense, first and foremost. And I agree that you build a team from the inside out. The offensive line has been the foundation on that side of the ball.

Jonny: I do think that, but I think patience and a big-picture perspective is important in evaluating the defense this year. I definitely think they're better but there will still be some tough moments on the outside. Kelvin Joseph will have to learn from mistakes just like Diggs did last year, and it isn't a total disaster if he actually takes a little longer to adapt to the NFL than Diggs did. And Diggs probably isn't finished with his learning curve, either. They just have to be good enough.

It seems there is a lot of intrigue Quinton Bohanna brings because of his size to help the Cowboys' porous run defense, even considered to be the "missing ingredient." Do you consider him an upgrade from Dontari Poe and brings some potential? — JOHN GORRIE / ROWLETT, TX

Rob: It's way too early to say. Poe was obviously a better player earlier in his career, but had trouble getting off blocks last season. Bohanna has a lot of competition to make the team, but you're right, he has a unique skill set. I do think the Cowboys are looking for a true nose tackle to clog the middle. And one thing that's evident in a couple practices is he moves pretty well at 330 pounds. I'm looking forward to watching him in preseason.

Jonny: The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. I don't think Bohanna will be as good as the player the Cowboys thought they were getting when they signed Poe. But I certainly hope they get more out of him than what they got out of Poe, who showed up fairly out of shape. Perhaps he'll provide more than that his rookie year.

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