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Monday, April 29, 2013
Is Cowboys' D-line really a strength?

By Todd Archer

IRVING, Texas – If we’ve learned anything about the Cowboys, it’s that they love their defensive line.

“We believe the defensive line is a strength,” became a default position for just about everybody in the organization during the NFL draft.

But is it really?

When Monte Kiffin was in Tampa Bay, the strength of the defense was the line with Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Booger McFarland. Same for Rod Marinelli in Chicago when he had Julius Peppers, Henry Melton and Israel Idonije racking up sacks.

Take DeMarcus Ware out of the equation. He will continue to be one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL. The move from outside linebacker to defensive end will not be too much for him, but it has to be noted that he is coming off major shoulder surgery and has suffered some other nicks the last couple of seasons.

Anthony Spencer is a curious case. He had a career-high 11 sacks last year, but in his first five seasons he never had more than six in a season. One AFC personnel man believed Spencer’s sack boost came in part because he was moved around more than in the past. Bill Polian has said Spencer will be a great fit for this defense. If Spencer is consistently in the same spot opposite Ware, then does he go back to a six-sack player? And he is lighter than most strong-side defensive ends Kiffin and Marinelli have employed.

Jay Ratliff was a difference-maker at one point. He was a disruptive player, incredibly difficult to block and could get to the quarterback. Notice the past tense? Ratliff’s sack total has decreased in each of the last five years and he missed 10 games because of injuries last year. He turns 32 in August. Maybe he is the perfect fit to play the Sapp role here, but how much tread is left?

Jason Hatcher has never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season and he will be making a position switch. Are his numbers a product of the fact that 3-4 defensive ends just don’t have the opportunity to get after the quarterback? Perhaps. He turns 31 in July and is in the last year of his contract.

Tyrone Crawford did some nice things as a rookie but didn’t record a sack. Sean Lissemore had one sack but was slowed by an ankle injury. Kyle Wilber will move to defensive end from outside linebacker this year but has the look of a tweener. Then there’s Ben Bass, Robert Callaway and Ikponmowasa Igbinosun.

Kiffin and Marinelli apparently have told Jerry Jones & Co. that the defensive linemen on the roster will be just fine, given how the team went about the draft and has looked at free agency so far. Rob Ryan said the same thing to Jones about the talent on hand when he showed up two years ago; how did that work out?