Unit-by-Unit Analysis: Defense

SilverStarDigest continues our extensive look at the Dallas Cowboys as we head towards the start of training camp this weekend in San Antonio. Included in this extensive report, is detailed analysis of the starters, back ups, and role players on the defensive side of the ball.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Starters -- DE Greg Ellis, DT Michael Myers, DT La'Roi Glover, DE Ebenezer Ekuban. Backups -- DE Demetric Evans, DE Charles Alston, DE Darrell Wright, DE Colston Weatherington, DE Derrius Monroe, DT Willie Blade, DT John Nix, DT Shaun Smith, DT Daleroy Stewart.

Glover was brought in last season bolster the pass rush. He had 6.5 sacks to go with 76 tackles and 26 quarterback pressures to earn his third straight Pro Bowl bid. However, the Cowboys posted only 23 sacks as team after posing 23 in 2001 and still haven't had a double-digit sack leader since 1996. In 2003, the Cowboys must make due at tackle without the solid Brandon Noble, who left for the Redskins. The non-descript mix of Myers, Nix, Blade, Stewart and Weatherington will compete for the spot opposite Glover. The Cowboys will also need improved performances Ekuban to help take pressure off of Ellis. Ellis led the Cowboys with 7.5 sacks and 30 quarterback pressures last season, but Ekuban, the 20th pick in the 1999 draft, had only one sack in 2002. He has 11 for his career.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- LB Dexter Coakley, MLB Dat Nguyen, SLB Al Singleton. Backups -- Jamal Brooks, Michael Hawkes, Bradie James, Louis Mackey, Keith O'Neil, Markus Steele.

Parcells admits Nguyen (5-11, 243) and Coakley (5-10, 236) are "not what I'm used to." He likes bigger linebackers. Signed contracts and the salary cap won't allow Parcells to tinker to quickly. By then, he might like what he sees. Coakley, who had a career-best 173 tackles last season, is the only Pro Bowler the Cowboys have drafted the past six seasons. Nguyen led the team in tackles in 2001 with 172, but he broke his right wrist in the season opener and missed the next eight games. Singleton, a free agent signee from Tampa Bay, is a more than adequate replacement for Kevin Hardy at strongside linebacker. He fits Parcells' mold, as does impressive rookie draft pick Bradie James (6-2, 240), who will backup Coakley in 2003 and contribute in special defensive packages.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- CB Terence Newman, CB Derek Ross, FS Roy Williams, SS Darren Woodson. Backups -- CB Mario Edwards, CB Pete Hunter, CB Donald Mitchell, CB Don McGee, CB Markese Fitzgerald, S Tony Dixon, S Keith Davis, S Lynn Scott, S Jonathan Martin, CB B.J. Tucker, S Woody Dantzler.

The Cowboys have been trying to replace Deion Sanders at cornerback since he was waived after the 1999 season. They might have finally done with the rookie Newman, who is a shutdown corner in the Prime Time mold and will step right into the starting lineup opposite Ross. Edwards, a two-year starter, will be a reserve along with the veteran Mitchell, giving the Cowboys their deepest group of corners in several years. The group should make Williams even more dangerous in 2003. He had 127 tackles, five interceptions, two sacks and four forced fumbles as rookie last season. Williams and the veteran Darren Woodson, who should return fine from season-ending hernia surgery, give the Cowboys the league's best safety tandem.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Starters -- PK Billy Cundiff, P Toby Gowin, LS Jeff Robinson. Backups -- PK Ola Kimrin, P Filip Filopovic, LS Jeff Grau.

Toby Gowin is back and will solidify things in an area that has not been the same since he left the team to sign a free-agent deal with the Saints in 2000. Gowin will punt, kickoff and hold. Gowin has averaged 42.2 yards on 455 career punts, with 142 downed inside the 20. On kickoffs, he has 54 career touchbacks. In 2002, Gowin finished sixth in the NFC with a 41.9 yards-per-punt average and a 36.9 net average. Cundiff, an inconsistent rookie last season, must be better. He missed seven of 16 attempts from beyond 29 yards. He will get competition from Kimrin in training camp. Robinson, who missed last season with a knee injury, will return as the deep snapper. He is considered among the best in the league at his craft. Grau will likely be cut before training camp.


CowboysHQ Top Stories