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Thursday, January 9, 2014
Final Exam: Upgrading defense in the draft

By Calvin Watkins

The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013 and this is something that could have been avoided last spring in the draft.

Instead, the Cowboys elected to upgrade the offensive line (Travis Frederick) and draft a tight end (Gavin Escobar) that wasn't used in the manner in which he was originally presented.

So the Cowboys had to use numerous defensive linemen due to injuries and ineffective play and watch a secondary get beaten up on a consistent basis, especially in the last half of the season. Bruce Carter regressed as a starter and Sean Lee missed the biggest game of the season with an injury for the second consecutive season.

Fixing the defense in the draft is a must for 2014 regardless of who the defensive coordinator is.

With Jason Hatcher expected to depart for free agency, finding his replacement in the first or second round is important. The Cowboys must find a man who can play the three-technique role in Monte Kiffin's defense, if he's still around.

Rod Marinelli, the defensive line coach, will maintain Kiffin's scheme if he's elevated to coordinator. Marinelli did wonders for the defensive line, sending Hatcher into free agency after a solid season and giving a boost to the careers of relative unknowns Nick Hayden and George Selvie. The Cowboys must give Marinelli a chance to compete with some young talent along the defensive line.

Drafting Missouri's Kony Ealy, coming off a eight sack season in the SEC, might be worth looking at.

The secondary is still young, but Morris Claiborne enters his third NFL season at a critical phase. He's underachieved badly for a player of his draft selection (sixth overall). Drafting a corner not only creates the competition coach Jason Garrett wants and needs in 2014, but sends a message to the rest of the team: It's time to play or get replaced.

Orlando Scandrick was the Cowboys' best corner last season and with $50.1 million invested to Brandon Carr and Claiborne's high draft status, the Cowboys need more from the position.

Safety was an inconsistent position from a health and performance standpoint. Barry Church was solid as the team's leading tackler, however J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath were inconsistent.

The linebackers struggled outside of Lee. Justin Durant was a veteran signing that didn't pan out due to health reasons. Finding a strongside linebacker in the 4-3 defense is something the Cowboys should look into as well.

With wide receiver Miles Austin expected to be released this summer, getting another young receiver wouldn't be a bad idea. Likewise at quarterback. Yes, you saw the value of Kyle Orton, and Tony Romo is a top-15 quarterback. Romo is coming off back surgery and there's no guarantee he'll return to form.

Better start the process of finding his replacement. You can't drop a first-round pick on a quarterback with so many holes on the defense, but a fourth- or fifth-rounder might be the way to go here.