Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has undergone a youth movement in Dallas that has led to the purging of numerous veterans. As that youth movement continues, it's not only a clear message that football is a young man's game in Dallas, but that other remaining veterans should be looking over their shoulders—the defensive line in particular.
Young players like defensive ends Sean Lissemore and third-round pick Tyrone Crawford will put, and have already put, pressure on veterans Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman. Jason Hatcher's status with the team is secure, but that's a byproduct of being a disruptive force for this defense.
The Cowboys are starting to stockpile young defensive players, and the evidence is on their roster. I took a glance at the current defensive roster and found an interesting trend. Currently, there are 36 defensive players on the roster, of which nine are rookies, 18 have less than five years experience, three are going into their fifth year, five have less than 10 years of service and only one player has 11 years of service.
The Cowboys drafted Lissemore in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, and his development has aligned him to make an impact this season. He's had a steady progression since only appearing in two games as a rookie. Last season he participated in all 16 games while recording 28 tackles and two sacks. When you watch him play, his high-motor, high-effort style just jumps out at you.
The Cowboys need that type of play to be infectious throughout their defense, and Lissemore can certainly provide that. By pushing veterans such as Spears and Coleman, the Cowboys will quickly find out which combination of defensive linemen give them the best chance on defense.
Crawford, who played his college ball at Boise State, has impressed the coaching staff and should play an integral role as a pass-rusher for this defense. In his preseason debut against the Oakland Raiders, I saw him do a nice job of applying pressure, pursuing the quarterback and collapsing the pocket. He also possesses that high-motor type of play similar to Lissemore, and that's what could make this duo the future of this defensive line.
When you look at veterans such as Spears and Coleman, it's not that they have nothing left in the tank or are totally unproductive. But when you look at other teams such as the New York Giants, it seems that the blueprint for a dominant defense starts with relentless pressure up front. The Cowboys have to be able to hit the quarterback, be disruptive and alter opposing teams' game plans.
The Cowboys could decide to release Spears or Coleman and save some cap space, but doing so would eliminate a veteran presence for the younger players. If the Cowboys are all-in with the youth movement, then releasing one or both of these players is a distinct possibility. But if they decide to keep one or both of these players, it could still have a positive impact on the younger players.
Lissemore and Crawford will eventually be counted on to anchor this defensive line. Although the future looks bright for both of these players, maybe that future starts sooner rather than later. For a team looking to avenge last season and become a dominant defense, that glimpse into the future could start right now.
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