The Dallas Cowboys 2015 preseason offered a glimpse of what the defensive line would look like at full strength. An injury to Randy Gregory in the season opener and the four-game suspension of Greg Hardy led to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli shuffling the rotation a few times to find the best combinations he could. Gregory, the rookie from the Nebraska Cornhuskers, suffered a high-ankle sprain week one and practiced last week during the Cowboys’ bye week. With Gregory expected to return to the lineup this Sunday against the New York Giants, the whole defensive line will be available.
The return to a full complement of options on the defensive line can’t come at a better time for a Cowboys team in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Changes are coming on the offensive side of the ball as the team looks for something to jump-start an offense struggling without franchise quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
The Cowboys have already announced that Matt Cassel will replace Brandon Weeden as starting quarterback this week. Running back Christine Michael, whom the Cowboys traded for earlier this season from the Seattle Seahawks, is expected to see an expanded role and may even see the start. In addition, the team is optimistic that Bryant may be able to play as well after sitting out from surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, also suffered in week one. Wednesday and Thursday practice will go a long way in determining whether that is a real possibility. While the team is optimistic, many outside the organization remain skeptical.
As for the defensive line, Marinelli has the ability to change-up his rotation and offer the Giants offense several different looks in the passing game to throw at quarterback Eli Manning. The Cowboys’ top defensive linemen Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, and Jeremy Mincey are expected to play together for the first time this regular season.
“Yeah, it’ll help to get everyone back,” Marinelli said in his weekly press conference with the media. “You always want all of your guys. And when we’re healthy, I think we have a chance to be really good. We just have to keep working. But, it’s a good group.”
The Cowboys need this good group to be the strength of this team as their defensive backfield has struggled at times and their linebacking corps has dealt with injuries. Nothing helps a defense more than a pass rush that continually attacks the quarterback. The Cowboys need this line to get after Manning and force some turnovers. For an offense that is trying to gain some consistency and stay afloat until Romo returns, turnovers and short fields would be ideal.
In his return to action in week five against the New England Patriots, Greg Hardy recorded two sacks and was hitting quarterback Tom Brady all game. While the team decidedly lost, Hardy’s return along with linebacker Rolando McClain definitely were some positives to take away from the game. This week against the Giants, look for Marinelli to use Hardy inside and outside. When inside, the expected front would be Lawrence and Gregory on the outside, and Crawford and Hardy at the inside tackle positions. Mincey would rotate in on some of those passing situations as well. Last week, Marinelli even went with a three-man line that caught the Patriots off guard at first.
Expect more combinations from Marinelli’s defense this week. The Cowboys are looking to turn around a three-game losing streak and are looking for answers on the offensive side of the ball. The team will be leaning on their strong defensive front that is finally back to full speed.