With the change in coaching staff and philosophies, do you think this team can be a top-five defense this year? The talent and coaching experience makes me think perennial excellence, especially if players are willing to stay on shorter contracts. — J.M. SMITH / ST. CHARLES, MD
Rob: The short answer is yes, I think they can be an elite defense even with the injury to Gerald McCoy. I'm not as focused on the NFL's "total defense" rankings that refer to yardage allowed, though. If the Cowboys can jump into the top half of the league in takeaways, that's where there they would be extremely valuable to the team's success. The offense has enough talent to score a lot of points if they can get some easier possessions. McCoy's injury hurts because he's such a pro and he was going to anchor the defensive front. But the group still has a lot of experience, talent and versatility.
David: Top 5 seems awfully optimistic. The secondary is full of potential, but there's very little in the way of proven playmakers. And as excited as we all are about Aldon Smith and some of the other pass rushers, I'd like to see them do it in a game before I assume they will. But if I can be honest with you, I don't really care what their ranking is. If they can stay in the top half of the league and actually force some takeaways, instead of finishing tied for 29th in the league like they did last year, that would be enough.
Would it not be a reasonable consideration for the Cowboys to move Tyrone Crawford inside to the defensive tackle position because of his previous experience playing at that spot, along with his veteran presence? — FRED LONDON / MORRISTOWN, TN
Rob: Crawford makes the most sense to fill in for McCoy, at least on some downs. He can play the position and he has more experience than Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore, who are talented but don't have ideal preparation time this year. I've been saying this for years: Crawford is one of the most valuable players on defense. He does so much of the dirty work, and if there's an injury at basically any position on the defensive line, the Cowboys can say, 'Well, we could move Crawford there.' That's a dream for a coach.
David: It sounds like Tyrone is going to do a little bit of everything this year – which has basically been the story of his career. But even before Gerald McCoy got hurt, the Cowboys' coaches were using Tyrone inside as a situational DT in these early practices. I'm not convinced he has the bulk to play the position full-time, because he has slimmed down in recent years. But he absolutely can do it in certain situations, and I think he will.