On defense, the only starter with a “good” tag is defensive tackle Henry Melton, and he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Three projected starters were listed as below average, and six were projected as average.
None of this is really new, but to show just how stacked it might seem against new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is this review of the Cowboys' front seven from Mike Tanier from Sports on Earth.
Tanier puts the Cowboys dead last in his front seven rankings.
Here's what he wrote:
32. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and (in the saddest, most ridiculous minicamp story of the year) Sean Lee from a defense that allowed 2,056 rushing yards and recorded just 36 sacks last year. Henry Melton arrives as a younger, more system-suited replacement for Hatcher, but everything else is a shambles. Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman form the most anonymous linebacker corps in the league, and only Carter has any significant starting experience. Anthony Spencer may start the season on the PUP list as he battles back from microfracture surgery on his knee. And of course, the Cowboys are so cap-stressed that they wouldn't be able to sign a veteran reinforcement, even if one becomes available this late in the offseason.
The wisest thing the Cowboys could do is insert rookies Demarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens into the rotation quickly and let them learn on the job. The Cowboys did not get into this predicament by doing the wise thing. But they are so thin and talent-poor that they may not have a choice.
One quibble I would make is that they could have attempted to keep Ware, signed Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or pick a veteran in free agency if they wanted to by doing more poorly structured deals that affected their ability to do business in the future. They chose not to go that route and likely won't do it for a Lee replacement, be it either Jonathan Vilma or Brian Urlacher.
Marinelli did a great job with the Bears in part because he had a younger and healthier Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Peppers and Melton in the front seven and solid role players such as Corey Wootton, Israel Idonije, Stephen Paea and Nick Roach.
From the looks of the Dallas defense right now, the Cowboys will be asking a lot of role players to play prominent parts, especially on the front seven. Marinelli has to turn a defense that is built on "maybes" and "hope so's" into one that can be competitive.