The Cowboys are reportedly talking to veteran linebacker Justin Durant about a return to the team to help them cover for the absence of suspended starter Rolando McClain this season, although that’s just one of the holes they’ll need to plug on defense early in the season.
While McClain is serving his 10-game suspension, defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence will be banned for four games and the team is unlikely to find enough players on the street to eliminate the downside of losing what safety Barry Church calls “three key, key slices” of the unit. That’s not to say that Church thinks all is lost, however.
Church is buying into Jerry Jones’ assertion that the selection of running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick will be a boon to the defense because the offense can get back to the long drives that made things work so well for the Cowboys in 2014.
“He’s definitely a three-tool player that can just play on every single down,” Church said on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Tom Pelissero and Erik Coleman. “And it helps out the defense a lot. It takes up our play downs by a lot. That also happened in 2014 when we had DeMarco Murray. He was punishing defenses and we were three-and-out here, three-and-out there and we were fresh in the fourth quarter. That’s how we won all of our games, by getting takeaways in the fourth quarter, but that was because we were fresh. Hopefully, we can get back to that same formula, where we’re just grounding and pounding people and then we’re just coming in there and cleaning things up. So we’ll see what happens, but he has all the talent in the world.”
That 2014 defense came into the year with plenty of doubts, but they held up well thanks in large part to the success of the offense. It looks like the route to wins in Dallas will be a similar one this year.