Dallas, TX– The Dallas Cowboys are about open the season up with a pretty big test as Jim Harbaugh and his 49er’s are on their way down to Dallas for this once iconic showdown. In fact, the entire 2014 season will be one big test as everyone around the nation is looking at this defense and not coming away with much of an impression.
The defense is particularly going to struggle early because of the suspension to Orlando Scandrick, the loss of Sean Lee and the awaiting of Anthony Spencer’s return to the gameday roster. At this time of year it is so crucial to stack some wins together to give yourself a little room later down the line when injuries start piling up.
That’s a familiar phrase for Cowboys’ fans, injuries have kind of plagued this team to death the past two seasons. It’s so hard to even evaluate this defense when we haven’t even sniffed the starting lineup during this preseason. However, the one enigma that awaits it’s answer is the possibility of a ceiling on this unit. You’ve got to think that once players begin to return that it can only get better if no other unforeseen circumstances come into play, which we know will occur anyway.
With that said, after glancing at this roster up and down, three names jump out to me. These three players in their respective positions will tell the tale of the tape so to speak on the 2014 season. In order for this defense to have any chance of improving, these guys will have to make an impact immediately.
DT HENRY MELTON
Melton hasn’t played a game in quite some time but there is so much hope for this young man to return to his 2012 form. Under the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, Henry Melton was on his way to becoming the best 4-3 Under Tackle in the NFL. A year later he tears his ACL and misses 2013. The hope is that he can come in and be better than Jason Hatcher who left for greener pastures, literally the color of dollars. The 3-tech as it’s often called must bring the heat through the middle of the opposing offensive line to force the quarterback into mistakes. As important as a right defensive end is, it’s the three that sets the tone for the entire defense in the 4-3.
Melton has got to come out ready to go, fired-up on all cylinders for any slight thought of this defense being better than 2013. The pass rush must improve and having a Pro Bowler at the defensive tackle can only help, but Melton must be effective. During the preseason, the Cowboys often struggled to get any type of pressure up the middle, Melton’s presence should change that.
CB MORRIS CLAIBORNE
It’s about damn time the Cowboys get a little return on the investment with Mo. It’s not a question of his ability, it’s a question of his will to play through his injuries and take it to the level that everyone knows “the best defensive player” in the 2012 Draft can. He’s been fired up all offseason about all the bad things he’s heard including the “bust” label that makes players cringe. I struggled between Claiborne or Carr but at least Carr has shown us he can do it. Claiborne has to become that physical corner that shows his play-making ability every time he takes the field.
I still believe firmly that Claiborne has the potential to become a shutdown style of corner. Hell, I’d even appreciate if he could be as Mike Jenkins was. A solid performer with the ability to keep fighting through the pain. It’s been reported that Claiborne will be taking pain-killing injections before the start of the season to help ease his repaired shoulder pain. Claiborne still has a lot to prove, if the Cowboys are going to be an improved bunch, Claiborne must step to the plate.
MLB ROLANDO McCLAIN
He’s the make-or-break guy in my humble opinion, it’s going to be imperative to have a presence in the middle. Nobody like Sean Lee is walking through the door anytime soon. McClain has the tools and natural ability to be the guy, however the question remains if he has the will. He seems to have worked his way up since the day he arrived, and trust me these coaches really want him in the middle. Nothing against Justin Durant, who has arguably been the best linebacker out there, but Durant would be better in his natural position at the SAM.
If McClain can show his readiness for a bigger role and ability to stay conditioned properly, he would help this team immensely. McClain has shown flashes in every single preseason game that he’s played, it’s now time to capitalize on those flashes and earn the starting role. If McClain proves to be that presence that it lacking, he just may revitalize his entire career and land a more permanent role with the Dallas Cowboys.
Who’s to say what the identity of this defensive unit will be this season? Last season they were really great at forcing turnovers but horrible defending the big play. If these guys can all get it together, this defense should have at the very least an opportunity to become markedly better than last season. We shall soon see as they say.