A pleasant surprise from the Oakland shutout was the play of some unsung defense linemen. Let's begin at the top, where the ever-maligned Marcus Spears got a start at left defensive end and was man of the match, when the first Cowboys and Raiders units squared off. He was a regular presence in Oakland's backfield, creating penetration and tackles on run downs and consistent pressure on pass plays.
Late in the contest, un-drafted rookie free agent Ben Bass put on a similar show when the backups played. He's had his moments during camp and translated them to the playing field better than his young peers Monday night.
The push by two guys rated low on the defensive line means the Cowboys could have a surplus of good linemen. Figure the following players are locks:
The first two were money players for the Cowboys last year. They provided the best pressure and most negative plays by some margin. They were the two DTs Dallas used when it went to nickel. Crawford didn't stand out as I had hoped, but he's stood out in practices and showed a lot of flexibility during the game. Rob Ryan lined Crawford up at both DE spots in the 3-4, at nose tackle, and at DE and DT in a four-man line. The 3rd round pick from Boise State isn't going anywhere.
That leaves an active competition for the remaining spots. And before we rank them, we should ponder how many linemen the Cowboys will keep? They've usually kept six since going to the 3-4, but you tell me which you keep from this lineup?
|DLs kneeling: Lissemore, Crawford, Calloway, Spears, Coleman|
Standing: Brent, Bass, Ratliff
Will the team cut the youngsters, who are almost sure to be snapped up. (Look at Bill Nagy, who was grabbed by the Lions off waivers, despite having ankle surgery last week.) Lissemore looks like a probable keeper, but once you get to the final five, there will be some tough decisions, especially if Spears blows it up again versus the Chargers. Do you cut your productive starter, and risk using still-green kids? Do you risk cutting a versatile giant like Geathers, who is showing power working inside and outside? Could you sneak a Bass onto the practice squad if he has another strong second half Saturday?
|Clifton Geathers has a Leon Lett-like frame|
Do you discard Josh Brent, when at 320 lbs. he offers the big-boy nose tackle the fans have screamed for? And what of Kenyon Coleman, who has that Jim Jeffcoat-like ability to rope-a-dope his opponents and produce at key times?
Maybe it's not such a bad problem to have. Teams value young defensive linemen just as much as they do young offensive linemen. The supply never rises to meet the demand league wide. We know the Cowboys need supplements at the wide receiver and interior offensive line spots. A Bass or a Geathers, provided they rip it up some more, could be the bargaining chips in a swap.
Pull hard for all of them, for the kids and the greybeards Spears and Coleman. A surplus at defensive line could help fill those key deficiencies elsewhere on the roster.