The Cowboys have officially completed the signing of their entire draft class with the recent inking of rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins to a four-year deal.
Next step at defensive tackle: the possibility of competition at the interior spots.
Collins - a third-rounder from Nebraska with pass-rush skills -- suffered a broken foot in OTAs earlier this offseason. The hope is he's back on the field sometime late in Cowboys’ training camp in Oxnard.
When that happens, assuming health elsewhere, there will suddenly be help alongside and behind veteran 3-Tech guy Tyrone Crawford (who Dallas views as a budding star). Newly-signed Cedric Thornton (formerly of the Eagles) can be a play-maker at either inside spot. Terrell McClain has always been highly-regarded here but is never been healthy; he returns from a toe injury which cause him to miss nearly all of 2015 but he will get chances as the 1-Tech.
Maybe the most intriguing interior guy, though, is Thornton, who arrived in Dallas with his new four-year, $17-mil deal and immediately bonded with teammates, talking about players as if they are "brothers'' and talking about coaches in paternal ways.
Oh, and talking about himself as a force to be unleashed.
“Defeating the man in front of me, that’s the best part of my game,” Thornton said. “It’s a mentality. And being physical and being aggressive. I’ve got a nice get-off, a first step. Leverage. Very strong at the point of attack. Just being a football player. They’re going to allow me to be that here in Dallas and I’m excited to see what happens.”
The Cowboys can also use position flex guys like David Irving and Jack Crawford inside. But Thornton might make that unnecessary. And hopefully late in camp they will begin to see the emergence of Collins, who was an upfield force at Nebraska with size, motor and smarts, and maybe he'll do the same.
Dallas believes it has "true-contender"-type talent within most of its other position groups -- certainly on offense, with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and rookie Ezekiel Elliott the top skill-position guys behind the Cowboys' elite O-line. But here we are at the start of training camp in Oxnard, and this team has issues at defensive end due to early-season suspensions, the latest of which is Randy Gregory's 10-game penalty. (See FishTips on the subject here.) There is a rumor, mostly coming from respected Yahoo writer Charles Robinson, that Dallas might eventially engineer a trade for a pass-rusher; we find the report "too specific'' in its mentioning of La'el Collins as trade bait. More likely, it's the IDEA of somebody like Collins (or the IDEA of something like a Round 1 pick) that's been kicked around inside Cowboys HQ, rather than a specific offer or even a specific target.
That conjecture is for later, however. Today the team reports to physicals and meetings before Saturday's first practice. There won't be a trade yet. There won't be Gregory. Mayowa is coming off a minor surgery so he's not yet ready. Conventional wisdom says the Cowboys' "best defense will be their great offense." But maybe the solutions for the most obvious flaw (defensive end weaknesses outside) start now and come with strength and depth inside.