IRVING, Texas – No position has drawn more interest here in the last few weeks than defensive line.
Will the Cowboys add a player like Joey Bosa to the mix? That was a scenario that seemed likely a few months ago, then faded away and then picked up steam once the Cowboys lost another key pass-rusher to a potential suspension.
Whether it's injury, suspension, or in the case of DeMarcus Lawrence, both injury and suspension, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks up front.
As the draft approaches next week, here's how the defensive line stands for now:
What We Know:We know Crawford is coming off shoulder surgery, but should be healthy in time for the offseason practices and definitely by training camp in late July. While his production didn't jump off the page, considering he's now paid $9 million per season, he was the team's best defensive tackle by far, posting five sacks and 27 quarterback pressures. Plus, he played the second half of the season banged up. If he can find a way to stay healthy, his production should increase significantly.
Still Need to Know:We're still waiting to see if he's going to be a dominant player or just a really good lineman. He's still young and relatively new to the defensive tackle spot, after switching back and forth from defensive end early in his career. Crawford is a quality player, but the jury is out on whether he's going to be elite.
What We Know:The team's best pass-rusher last year, Lawrence led the Cowboys with eight sacks, including seven in the last eight games. He seemed to figure it out down the stretch and was expected to be the anchor of the line in 2016, especially as a pass-rusher.
Still Need to Know:What will happen with Lawrence and his expected four-game suspension? Neither the NFL nor Cowboys have announced it, but owner Jerry Jones did refer to the four games without Lawrence as "a loss" and "setback." Overall, the question is if this setback is a one-time thing or an issue the Cowboys will have to deal with again down the road.
What We Know:The Cowboys should have some quality depth at the 3-technique with Crawford and now Thornton, who wanted out of the 3-4 scheme in Philadelphia. This defense should allow him to be more active as a rusher. He's jumped feet first into the Cowboys' strength and conditioning program and seems to have a chance at being a leader on the line, despite being new to the team.
Still Need to Know:While he says all the right things about his preference in defenses, all of his production has been in a 3-4. So until he does it in a 4-3, questions will remain on if he can make the transition. But based on Thornton's skill set, it seems like it'll be a smooth transition.
What We Know:We know Gregory had three sacks in the preseason. We know he was fourth on the team in quarterback pressures with 16, despite missing four games with an injury.
Still Need to Know:Plain and simple, the Cowboys need to know two things about Gregory. For starters, can he play at a high level? He was good in the preseason, but didn't make much of a difference after that. Secondly, can they trust him? So far, he hasn't proven to be someone that can consistently follow protocol when it comes to the NFL's substance abuse policy. And if he can't ever follow that, it won't matter how good of player he is.
What We Know:The Cowboys obviously saw some positive things on his film with the Raiders to take a chance. Right now, with the suspensions facing the end position, he looks to be the starter when the season begins.
Still Need to Know:Like most of the players, Mayowa needs to prove he's worth the money the Cowboys paid him. Plus, his body type looks more like an outside linebacker, so he has to show he can hold up in this scheme.
Others to Watch
Jack Crawford:Re-signing him could be one of the best moves the Cowboys made this offseason. Not only is he the most versatile lineman on the team, but with the suspensions, he gives the defense flexibility and experience right away.
Terrell McClain:He hasn't been able to stay healthy the last two years, but the Cowboys have liked his toughness and awareness inside when he's been on the field. With Nick Hayden gone, he could fight for a starting job at the 1-technique.
David Irving:Like Jack Crawford, his versatility will help him get on the field. He might end up being a starter in Week 1 if the defense doesn't add more pass-rushers between now and then. He has played both end and tackle, and probably will be a backup at both spots, but those guys are always valuable.[embeddedad0]
Ryan Russell:If anyone can benefit from the Cowboys having two ends facing suspension, it'd be Russell, who was a non-factor last year as a rookie. Many times we see the biggest improvement in players from their first to second year and no one needs that more than Russell.
Casey Walker:This team doesn't have a lot of "true" nose tackles and Walker is only that. He did get some opportunities to play last year, and with a full year in the conditioning program, there's a chance he could make a difference, especially because of his size and strength.
Chris Whaley:After missing all of 2014, Whaley was on his way back, having a solid camp last year, before suffering a torn Achilles in August. Coming back from that injury is tough, making it even harder for him to make the team.
Mike McAdoo:A player the Cowboys signed in the offseason to add depth. He's one of the taller players on the team at 6-7, 245. He has a chance to be disruptive, but will need to prove he can hold his own against the run.