When it comes to either side of the ball, one can certainly argue that the Dallas Cowboys defense is in better shape than the offense heading into training camp.
But that doesn’t mean there are questions the defense needs to answer. Much like the offense, there are a few areas on Dan Quinn’s unit that need to achieve closure before camp ends.
Who will step up on the interior defensive line?
The interior defensive line has plenty of quality names to be used in rotation. At the moment, however, there is no true lead dog in the pack. Players like Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa are the most talented, and are looking better than ever. Add in a bigger, stronger Chauncey Golston who’ll rotate inside around the edges, and it creates plenty of competition inside.
Throw in vets like Carlos Watkins, and young nose tackles like Quinton Bohanna and rookie John Ridgeway, and there will be more than enough beef up front. But who will be The Guy in the middle?
The defense has lacked a dominant force inside since David Irving. They can’t continue to rely on the hope that quality rotation can make up for the lack of a true force in the middle.
Who will be the Dallas Cowboys “Fifth Man” on defense?
Every defense needs a reliable, dominant player at all three levels at defensive line, linebacker and secondary. The Dallas Cowboys are fortunate enough to have four players who meet this criteria: DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, Jayron Kearse and Trevon Diggs.
It has a similar look going into 2022, minus the loss of Randy Gregory. Who was last year’s fifth dominant defensive player. Whether it’s someone like Dorance Armstrong or Malik Hooker, who each received team-friendly extensions, or possibly a young stud like Odighizuwa or rookie Sam Williams. If the defense wants to continue the success of last year, they need that fifth player.
Where will the extra pass rush come from?
Lawrence and Parsons are heading into the 2022 season with a sack competition against each other. Something that should only make the players around them better, as their best pass rushers are thriving. With the aforementioned Gregory gone, that pass rush will need to come elsewhere.
The front office thinks the combination of Dante Fowler and Armstrong could combine for the missing pass rush. Players like the rookie Williams or Odighizuwa, who lead all Cowboys interior defenders in pressures, are also likely to factor into this. There will be plenty of situational pressures created but the Cowboys defense will need a third, consistent force getting to the backfield. It can’t all fall on their two primaries.
How will Kelvin Joseph factor going forward?
There may be no player on the Dallas Cowboys with more questions surrounding them than second year corner Kelvin Joseph. He’s incredibly talented but still young and raw as a player. He only played two total combined seasons at LSU and Kentucky, totaling 15 games. With questions coming out of school about immaturity.
On top of that, he is still being investigated for his involvement surrounding a murder in the DFW back in March. While he’s not being charged as the shooter, there’s still the NFL’s personal conduct policy to consider, which could land an eventual suspension.
There’s no doubting his coverage skills. In limited time at corner his rookie season, he displayed shut-down ability outside while also becoming the team’s best tackling corner. He’s got a lot to overcome, but the team believes in his abilities enough to keep him despite everything.
What does the starting secondary look like?
To piggyback off Kelvin Joseph, as far as talent goes, he’s might be the best pure coverage corner the team has on the roster. However, the Dallas Cowboys are set with All-Pro Trevon Diggs and have a par of veterans in Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis coming off career years. It’s possible that Joseph outperforms both Lewis and Brown to the point that the Cowboys are ready to move off either vets. Either would save the Cowboys between $3.5 million and $5 million in cap space if released. Would it be enough for the Cowboys to move off veteran depth?
In the deep end, the Cowboys will run PLENTY of Big Nickel (three safeties) and modified Dime defensive schemes (six defensive backs). Malik Hooker is the starting free safety, having seemingly overcome his injury history, and at only 26-years-old. But there is a question of if there even is another single-high free safety on the team. Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse each play strong safety, but with Kearse as a more modified S/LB hybrid. But it can’t stop at just the starting trio.
Can young players like Israel Mukuamu, Markquese Bell or even modified rookie DB DaRon Bland be enough to solidify the depth? This is the first time in a long time that the Cowboys have been set at safety, but the depth will be tested.
Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports