One of the chief topics facing the Cowboys presently is their dwindling depth along the defensive line. Not only are second-year defensive end Randy Gregory and third-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence suspended for the first four games of the season, but injuries have also cut through the D-line like a scythe. Third-round rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins is out with a broken foot until Week 1. Now, free agent defensive end Benson Mayowa is out until training camp with a knee scope. Dallas can't win for losing. GM Twitter would have the Cowboys looking to sign a big-name veteran like Dwight Freeney, but the Joneses choose to hold forth and weather the storm.
"Defensively, we've improved, I think," said COO Stephen Jones. "At the same time, you think about where we were last year. To be honest, we don't have that guy that when the team breaks the huddle they're looking for. We made that experiment with [Greg] Hardy. It didn't work out unfortunately. If you look around, that's probably our biggest issue there."
Mayowa, a four-year veteran who won a Super Bowl with Seattle as a rookie in 2013, was a rushman the coaches liked as the starting right end. Now with Mayowa on the shelf until the start of training camp at best, new pass rushers have to emerge. Jerry the GM thinks some have in Mayowa's absence this mini-camp.
"What it has is a couple of guys the last couple of days have really shown aptitude out there, wouldn't have been out there probably in [David] Irving and possibly even [Ryan] Russell that are getting some opportunity," Jerry said. "And in Irving's case, he looks really out outside and looks like it might fit him a little bit naturally as much or more as inside."
While our colleagues in the newspapers focus on Russell, the coaches and front office has been impressed with Irving, a player they feel has position flex. Undrafted but signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad in 2015, the Cowboys took a flier on him early in the 2015 season to provide depth. What they got from the 3-4 defense run by Bob Sutton was a versatile rushman to play a part in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's rotation.
Said Stephen: "I think this defense we have is better than the one we had two years ago. We didn't have a Byron Jones. We didn't have a Sean Lee playing for us two years ago. We didn't have Tyrone Crawford playing where he is right now. He has so much experience, D-Lawrence. Obviously Gregory has to serve his suspension, but he's come a long.
"But we have a chance to have a good defensive football team; a lot of confidence in Rod. I know he'll come up with ways to get pressure on the quarterback. But we feel good about this team, feel good that we have a real great opportunity to really compete for a championship."
Injuries create opportunities, and the non-football injury to running back Darren McFadden, who gained 1,089 yards last season, gives the front office and coaching staff an opportunity to dispense with the formality of "competition" between him and fourth-overall running back Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys can go straight to giving Zeke the reps and mantle needed to being the missing component to the Dallas offense.
"I think the more he gets out there, the better," Jerry explained. "He certainly won't disappoint. He stood there with John Robinson yesterday and watched the entire practiced. I respect his thoughts about the running game of anyone who's been in football. He was talking about how inspirational to the offensive line that a back like Elliott can be."
According to what the legendary LA Rams coach told the Dallas owner, the offensive line, which is formidable in its own right, will be even more galvanized when they are blocking for a running back like Elliott. Even the incentive to go to the next level was there when the club was blocking for McFadden last year, Robinson posited (okay: maybe Jerry Poppins embellished on that one). All things considered, Robinson expects to see the Cowboys offensive line take their play to another level thanks to Elliott's ability to "get every ounce" out of every play.
Speaking of McFadden, the Cowboys owner said he trusts McFadden implicitly that the iPhone had to be saved, even at the expense of breaking his elbow over Memorial Day weekend.
"He's such a pro and has gained the respect that I take, just as he said, that phone had to be saved. I accept that."
In all seriousness though, the elder Jones took the opportunity to highlight that even in areas on the team where depth is bottomless, crowded position groups can turn into skeleton crews rather quickly.
Said Jerry: "It really makes the point and it's a reminder that those numbers look a little challenging if you're trying to cut to 53 or looking at a roster. If you're looking at depth or quality depth, don't try to get your numbers down there. Keep all the good football players at a position, even if you're long. That incident helps remind of that."
The final day of mini-camp and the final practice at Valley Ranch commences today. Keep it right here at CowboysHQ and follow our Cowboys insider Mike Fisher @fishsports for all the latest happenings with America's Team.