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Position Series: Ailing D-Line Could Be In Line For Alterations

(Editor's Note: This is the seventh of a 12-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2013 season. Today we examine the defensive line.)

Pressing Matters:When the offseason began, the pressing matter centered on which linemen would be healthy and ready to go by the time the 2013 season rolled around. The addition of Monte Kiffin and subtraction of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator adds new pressing matters to the mix. The Cowboys now need to figure out what personnel they need if they switch to the 4-3 defense Kiffin's utilized in previous stops. That could mean bringing down linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer as defensive ends, if the Cowboys manage to sign Spencer. That would also leave the staff with decisions about where and how to play linemen Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lissemore, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher, who've all been learning the 3-4.

2012 Evaluation: The Cowboys failed to generate much pressure and allowed huge chunks of yardage to running backs toward the end of the season, as defensive lineman after defensive lineman left with injuries. Kenyon Coleman played in seven games before a season-ending injury. Jay Ratliff played in only six games before injuries derailed his season. Ratliff's promising backup, Josh Brent, missed the end of the year after his tragic automobile accident. Marcus Spears also played through nagging injuries. The Cowboys had to tough it out all season on the defensive line, bringing in free agents and calling up practice squad players to fill the roster throughout the year.

Need More From … : One player the Cowboys could desperately use a bounce back year from is Ratliff. He was given a contract through 2017 at the beginning of the 2011 season, but his production's declined as his injuries have increased since. He was never healthy all year, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot in the offseason and ankle and groin issues the rest of the season. His season finally ended when he underwent surgery for a sports hernia in December, after playing in only six games this season. His primary concern will be getting healthy, because his presence makes a difference on the defensive line. The same health issues exist for Ware, who could be relied on as a defensive end next year.

Upgrades Needed:It wouldn't be surprising to see the Cowboys select a defensive end or defensive tackle early in this year's draft. The Dallas defense could use a young, hefty lineman in the middle, no matter what scheme they used. Now the Cowboys also might need a pass rushing defensive end, particularly if they can't get Spencer signed. Youthful and spritely aren't words to describe the Cowboys' line in its current state.

Position Analysis:

Jay Ratliff – Injuries halted Ratliff from doing much this season. He ended the year after surgery for a sports hernia. Ratliff made a difference getting pressure when he was able to play, but he only played in six games and failed to record a sack.

Tyrone Crawford– The third-round pick finished the season with 20 tackles. He came on strong toward the end of the year, providing reasons to be hopeful for his future if he can develop his body in the offseason.

Jason Hatcher – A roughing the passer penalty in the final game of the season shouldn't tarnish what Hatcher accomplished in 2012. He led all defensive linemen with four sacks and 51 total tackles.

Sean Lissemore – The versatile lineman earned a three-year contract extension in September. The Cowboys clearly believe the 2010 pick has a bright future in Dallas. He battled through injury and finished only behind Hatcher in tackles among Cowboys defensive linemen.

Marcus Spears – Spears is signed through 2015, but knee problems and various injuries still persist for the eight-year veteran. It wasn't certain Spears would make the team coming out of training camp, but he did so and recorded a sack on Ben Roethlisberger, among his accomplishments.

Josh Brent – A year that started so promisingly for Brent ended so tragically, after his car crash resulted in the loss off teammate and friend Jerry Brown. It's still unclear what his future holds, though it's extremely unfortunate for the nose tackle whose career appeared to be taking off.

Ben Bass –Most of the rookie's work came in the offseason, preseason and practice squad, though he eventually joined the active roster and suited up for two games before injuring his ankle. He contributed with one tackle when he got called up.

Rob Callaway –With so many injuries on the defensive and at nose tackle, Callaway eventually made his way to the active roster after spending the majority of the season on the practice squad.

Brian Schaefering –Schaefering's a restricted free agent after joining the team at the tail end of the regular season. Rob Ryan was familiar with Schaefering from Cleveland, and the team needed as much help as possible on the line. He played in three games this year after playing all 16 in each of his previous two seasons with the Browns.

Kenyon Coleman –His efforts as a run-stopper were appreciated more after his departure for the season with a torn triceps. The Cowboys plugged in new faces, but none of them seemed to work the way Coleman did at the beginning of the year. He's now an unrestricted free agent.

Brian Price – Price was a former second round pick of the Bucs in 2010. The Cowboys took a chance on him, hoping he could pay off in the long run after injuries halted his career. Price signed a futures deal with Dallas at the end of 2012. 

Ikponmwosa (Ike) Igbinosun – Igbinosun was a free agent in 2012 out of Southern Connecticut State. He spent time with the Steelers before going to the Cowboys' practice squad in December.

Monte Taylor – Dallas could use as much help as possible bolstering its defensive line, and the 6-5 free agent from Cincinnati adds depth and youth to the position.

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Scout's Take:

Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys' current DL situation:

As the 2012 season ended and the focus turned to 2013, the defensive line was a position that I really felt was going to need some attention this offseason. Regardless of the scheme change from a 3-4 to 4-3, I targeted this as an area of concern. Not so much for the level of play… (Read more here)

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