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What's Up at DT? More questions than answers


FRISCO, Texas — Arguably the biggest question mark on the entire team going into training camp is the defensive tackle position, simply put.

After losing veteran Johnathan Hankins in free agency to the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys are set to rely on a young group to fill the middle of the defensive line opposite of Osa Odighizuwa – who himself is entering the final year of his contract as the team's solidified 3-Technique.

The Cowboys' first-round pick from 2023, Mazi Smith, wasn't able to put forth a strong effort in his rookie season and will now be expected to be the leader at 1-Technique even after offseason shoulder surgery. Veteran Carl Davis along with rookies Justin Rogers (seventh-round pick out of Auburn) and Denzel Daxon (undrafted free agent out of Illinois) will look to push the competition at that position, but the level of unproven ability remains concerningly high.

The uncertainty leaves a lot to be determined for when the team arrives in Oxnard, Calif. next month, as they will look to both find the solidified Hankins successor while also being a key role in the front office and coaching staff's efforts to improve a rather pedestrian run defense from 2023.

With a muddy picture ahead, let's take a look at "What's Up" at defensive tackle.

What We Know: Osa Odighizuwa is the 3-Technique. There is little question about what Odighizuwa can bring from both a pass rush and run game perspective from the interior, as his fourth season in the league could see him continue his steady progression from his experience thus far in the NFL. When he needs to come off the field in situational circumstances or to just simply get a breather, there will be an intriguing young group behind him in Viliami Fehoko Jr. and second-round pick Marshawn Kneeland who could factor in at the position with his power and size.

What We Don't: You could throw darts at the possible depth charts that could hit the field in week one in Cleveland at the 1-Technique position, and you'd have as good of a shot as anybody at predicting what it could look like. Mazi Smith has his own fair share of question marks regarding his play weight, his injury timetable and his early progression in the NFL. And while Carl Davis brings a veteran presence at age 32, he has only played 652 defensive snaps in the last six seasons combined (compared to Odighizuwa's 637 snaps from 2023 alone). Then, you see two rookies in Justin Rogers and Denzel Daxon who have yet to touch the NFL field.

What to Watch For: It's tough to find a solid opportunity at starting in the NFL as a rookie seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent, but Rogers and Daxon are just as much in the mix as any. Rogers brings a wealth of SEC experience from his time at Kentucky and Auburn where he was one of the conference's most consistent run-stuffers in 2023, while Daxon's wide frame also stuffed running lanes at Illinois in a run-dominant Big Ten Conference. Could another name be added to this mix before the team boards the flight to California? That will be the biggest question.

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