Cowboys' defensive line has some issues

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
10:31
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- During the early stages of training camp, Dallas Cowboys officials said they were impressed with the depth of the defensive line and deemed it a position of strength.

It was that train of thought that explained why the team didn’t draft a defensive linemen in the first round.

Today, the Cowboys' defensive line is a mess.

Starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games of the 2013 season. His return isn’t guaranteed given his shaky relationship with the team's strength and conditioning staff.

Monday morning, Cowboys' starting defensive end Anthony Spencer wasn’t on the field to practice in preparations for the Week 1 game against the New York Giants because he’s still recovering from minor knee surgery.

George Selvie, Spencer’s replacement, has played in 36 career games for three different NFL teams.

Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys traded Sean Lissemore, an undersized defensive tackle, who was also an end, for a 2015 seventh-round pick to the San Diego Chargers.

Last year, Lissemore signed a five-year, $7.1 million deal with $3.1 million guaranteed. Now it’s not considered a major deal from a financial standpoint, but it was clear, at least at that time, the Cowboys thought Lissemore had a future.

Now he’s gone and the Cowboys will rely on Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden, Ben Bass and Landon Cohen to play the defensive tackle position.

Hatcher, who enters the final year of his contract, will start alongside Hayden, who missed the 2012 season recovering from a high-ankle sprain.

Bass played in two games his rookie season in 2012 and Cohen has played in 25 NFL games for three different teams but didn’t play last season after the Philadelphia Eagles released him.

The best player along the line is DeMarcus Ware, the end, who will make the switch from outside linebacker to a full-time end for the first time in his NFL career.

Ware was fantastic in training camp and the preseason, yet if Spencer is out for the Week 1 game against the Giants, the offensive line will target taking Ware out of the game with double-teams because there’s no threat of Spencer.

Kyle Wilber is the other member of the defensive line and he moved from outside linebacker to end and is struggling at the position.

The Cowboys' hope in Wilber, a 2012 fourth-round pick, is he’ll eventually become a stable force along the line.

As the Cowboys move toward Week 1, the defensive line, once a strength from the front office, might not be a weakness, given the health and the lack of experience.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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