Why Stephen Jones Envisions A Better Defense In 2016 Than 2014 Season

FRISCO, Texas – Two years ago the Cowboys got credit for winning 12 games largely on the strength of their offensive line, running game and Pro Bowl performances from Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.

Quietly the defense did its part, too, posting the second-most takeaways in the league (31) with a relatively unproven group of pass rushers.

As the Cowboys look to wrap up minicamp on Wednesday – the team's final offseason work before training camp in Oxnard, Calif., gets underway in a few weeks – executive vice president Stephen Jones envisions a better defense in 2016 than that 2014 group.

"We didn't have a Byron Jones two years ago," Jones said. "We didn't have a Sean Lee playing for us two years ago (due to injury). We didn't have Tyrone Crawford playing where he is right now – he's got so much experience."

The biggest question mark this offseason, like 2014, is probably the pass rush.

As Jones acknowledged, the Cowboys don't have a defensive player on the roster who has tallied 10 sacks in a season.

Defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence have that type of potential, but Gregory must serve a four-game NFL suspension and Lawrence reportedly is appealing a four-game league suspension as well. Losing both for the first month of the season would hurt defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's rotation.

"In the meantime we've got to do it by committee," Jones said, "and figure out a way to get pressure on the passer. I think we can."

The Cowboys have suffered more short-term attrition on the defensive line in recent weeks. Rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins had surgery in late May for a broken foot that will sideline him 10-12 weeks. Head coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday that restricted free agent signing Benson Mayowa, a candidate to begin the season as the starting right defensive end, would undergo a knee scope and could be back on the field around the start of training camp.

Both will eventually return, and the Cowboys have used these offseason workouts to evaluate their current group, including young linemen such as Ryan Russell and Charles Tapper, rather than look for veteran help in free agency.

"I do think we've got really solid football players over there," Jones said. "I think we've got good depth there, have eight to 10 guys that can really play and play the style of football he (Marinelli) wants to play and be productive.

"We have a chance to have a good defensive football team. A lot of confidence in Rod and I know he'll come up with ways to get pressure on the quarterback."

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