Cowboys desperate for D-line depth

OXNARD, Calif. – Jerry Jones’ draft-weekend declaration that the defensive line is a strength for the Cowboys caused a lot of eyebrow raising and head scratching.

It’s even more off the mark now.

The Cowboys desperately need to address their lack of depth on the defensive line. It was an issue before Tyrone Crawford, the team’s best young defensive linemen, went down with what the Cowboys fear is a torn Achilles tendon during the first practice of training camp. It’s a glaring need now.

“We’ll probably be looking at that,” said executive vice president Stephen Jones, declining to discuss any potential candidates. “We were already looking at that anyway.”

The Cowboys were counting on the 6-foot-4, 284-pound Crawford to spell Anthony Spencer at the strong side defensive end and also play some at defensive tackle. The hope was that Crawford, a third-round pick in 2012 who earned rave offseason reviews, would perform well enough to make the Cowboys comfortable saying farewell to Spencer in free agency.

But next offseason is a long way away. The Cowboys have to address their immediate concerns about the defensive line.

With Ratliff and Spencer (knee) nursing injuries, Sean Lissemore and Kyle Wilber joined DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher on the starting defensive line. The only other healthy defensive linemen on the roster with any NFL experience: Ben Bass, who saw action in two games as an undrafted rookie last season; and Nick Hayden, who has played a total of two games since 2010.

Stephen Jones insists that the hamstring strain that sidelined Ratliff for the start of camp isn’t a significant concern. However, it’s another indication that Ratliff’s days of being a durable interior playmaker are probably done. He turns 32 next month, missed 10 games last year and is still recovering from the sports hernia surgery that put him on injured reserve in 2012.

The Cowboys passed on the easiest way to add depth to their defensive line when they traded down in the first round instead of selecting Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the No. 5 player on their board, with the 18th overall pick. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who didn’t feel that Floyd was “quick twitch” enough to excel in their scheme, essentially won a draft-room debate over the scouts.

That decision was widely questioned at the time, and the second-guessing will continue, especially if Floyd emerges as a force for the Minnesota Vikings.

But the Cowboys can’t worry about that at the moment. They’ve got to get busy finding reinforcements for a depleted defensive line that is far from a strength.