I predict that the Cowboys will have at least four different rookies to start on defense. What do you think? — ELDRIDGE DAVIS / JACKSON, MS
Nick: That's a pretty bold prediction. I wonder when the last time the Cowboys had four defensive players starting at one time – on a regular basis. I would say one, and even that one isn't set in stone. Sure, Micah Parsons will find a role on this defense but he's still going to have to beat out LVE and Jaylon Smith to get a spot in Week 1. Then again, it's hard to tell exactly how Dan Quinn is going to play this scheme but Parsons is the only one I'd say has a great chance to start. After that, it seems like role players that will compete for a spot. Could Kelvin Joseph to get in there? Perhaps. What about Osa Odighizuwa and Nahshon Wright or even Jabril Cox? I see them all playing, along with Chauncey Golston. But starting? Put my answer down as one.
Jonny: I could get on board with four rookies getting a start at some point in the season, but Micah Parsons is the only one I would bank on starting Week 1. I assume Anthony Brown will be the team's starting cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs, but Kelvin Joseph will hopefully be ready to fill in at some point in the season if needed to start due to an injury. Osa Odighizuwa seems like a player who will play his way into a start eventually. I also think Jabril Cox will demonstrate enough value as the season progresses that the coaches will find a way to get him on the field for an opening series before the season ends.
Most expectations for the defense are the best-case scenario for improvement is to be middle of the pack. But if you go back to 2019, they were one of the better units. If they can drop as far as they did in one year given that they were dealing with so many challenging circumstances (new coach, putting in a new scheme, with no offseason, players who were not scheme fits for what he was trying to do, and multiple injuries), then why is it unreasonable to assume that they can return to the level of a top ten defense in one year given that we now have a full offseason? — KHEVIN DEVAUGHN / GLENDORA, CA
Nick: Nothing is off the table in the NFL. We see teams, players, and even units like a defense, have big turnarounds from one year to another. But then again, if the offense is as good as we think it can be, don't be surprised if the defensive numbers even go down a bit – despite being a better unit. Sometimes we look at the rankings, which is done by yards allowed, and judge an offense or defense. It's rare to find a team ranked in the Top 10 in both category. I think the stat that needs to be valued the most is points allowed. If this defense can keep teams from scoring as many points, it can be rather good this year. Trust me when I say that if Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin all play the majority of the year, and keep Dak upright and open up lanes for Zeke, the defense will be MUCH better on its own, and then even better when Dan Quinn gets involved.
Jonny: I think they had better defensive players in 2019 than they do now, and they'll need rookie contributions to compensate for that. Byron Jones and Robert Quinn were excellent veteran contributors. I agree with your assessment that there reason to except improvement, but if you look at the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary, it feels like a lot has to go right for them to be in the top 10 in any of those units so I don't really see it being the case for the entire defense.