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Mailbag: More Help At Defensive End?

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Before he was injured, Jalen Jelks seemed to be a disruptive presence on the D-line, although a bit under-strength. How do you think he'll progress with a year of NFL strength training? —DAVE DEWEY / BARDWELL, AZ

Nick: I had someone on the staff tell me they were disappointed that he got hurt and spent all of last year on IR because he not only needed the practice, but likely could've helped out later in the season. That was just one opinion but I do get the sense there is some serious optimism about him, and Joe Jackson, heading into this year. Now, with the current situation we're in, the guys haven't had the same strength program they would've had and it will likely affect these young guys. But if Jelks is indeed stronger this year, he could develop into a player that fights for a roster spot and/or playing time.

Rob: As Nick said, social distancing measures mean there's no in-person strength work with the coaches at The Star right now. But Jelks does have a big frame that can carry more bulk, even though he entered the league listed at under 260 pounds. The Cowboys liked his potential last year before the injury. I'm interested to see the competition for those reserve defensive end spots. Obviously the Cowboys are hopeful that Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith are reinstated. But regardless, Jelks and Jackson and Dorance Armstrong will be in competition with draft pick Bradlee Anae. And the Cowboys reached rookie free agent deals with three edge rushers, including Ron'Dell Carter, who was very productive at James Madison.

With Andy Dalton as the backup, how important is it having such experience running point on the scout team and pushing the defense the way Romo did early in his career? I think this might have been an overlooked weakness the last few years and could push our defense a few spots up the rankings just from having higher quality practices.RONALD TIDWELL / SWEETWATER, TX

Nick: Not sure how Mike McCarthy conducts his practices in that way. A lot of teams don't use the backup on the scout team, but the third QB instead. However, to your point, Dalton still can play a big role in practice, especially if the structure has the No. 2 offense facing the starting defense. That alone should give the defense a formidable look every week to prepare for the game. So it's early to see in what way Dalton's experience will pay off in practice, but I'm sure it will.

Rob: It's a good thought. I think the biggest thing with Dalton is simply having him around as insurance if Prescott were to ever miss time with injury. And I do think having a 133-game starter around as a sounding board for Prescott can only be a good thing. It's extremely rare to find a three-time Pro Bowler as the No. 2 guy when he's still in his prime at 32 years old.

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