Cowboys defensive line operating on a wing and prayer

With the Dallas Cowboys set to open training camp practices Saturday, here is the latest in a position-by-position look at their roster:


Returning players: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, Jack Crawford, Ryan Russell, Terrell McClain, Randy Gregory

Gone from last season: Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey, Casey Walker, Nick Hayden

New this season: Cedric Thornton (unrestricted free agent), Benson Mayowa (restricted free agent), Maliek Collins (2016 third-round pick), Charles Tapper (2016 fourth-round pick), Mike McAdoo (free agent), Lawrence Okoye (free agent), Rodney Coe (undrafted free agent), Zach Wood (undrafted free agent)

Position coaches: Rod Marinelli (fourth year with the Cowboys, third year as defensive coordinator), Leon Lett (sixth year with the Cowboys)

Biggest issue: Gregory was already slated to miss the first four games of the season. Now he is facing a longer suspension, according to sources. There is a chance he will not play at all this season. Lawrence, who led the Cowboys in sacks last season with eight, will miss the first four games because of a suspension. Do you see another pass-rusher among the aforementioned group? Somehow the Cowboys will have to figure out a way to rush the passer with a group of largely unknowns. They did it before in 2014 and Marinelli will have to do it again. But look for the Cowboys to be active in finding pass-rushing help this summer through cuts or potential trades. They have to do something.

Player to watch: The Cowboys gave Tyrone Crawford a $45 million extension last year, believing he could be the linchpin of the line as the 3-technique. He posted a career-high five sacks but played most of the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Crawford is healthy and has his strength back. The Cowboys have considered moving him to defensive end with the suspensions, but his best spot is on the interior because he works better in tight spots. He moves into a leadership role with this group and he will need to produce even without much help around him.

Medical report: Mayowa missed minicamp because of knee surgery but he is expected to be ready in training camp, if not the first day of camp for a full workout. Collins had surgery on his foot in the spring and could be back during the early part of camp. Lawrence had back surgery in the offseason and did not go through team drills in the spring. The Cowboys will look to work these players in slowly as they get back to practice.

Play it out: There is not a position on the roster with more questions. The Cowboys have gone heavy with defensive linemen on their 53-man roster because Marinelli likes to use a rotation. Without an alpha type, they will have to work the position the same way in 2016. Russell took starting reps in the spring because of injuries. Irving has potential. McAdoo is worth watching because he showed in the spring he can get around the corner, but can he do it when the pads are on?

Notable number: 93. Since 2013 the Cowboys have just 93 sacks. Only the Atlanta Falcons have fewer in that time span with 73. The San Diego Chargers also have 93.

Quote board: "I always use the term 'four equals one.' Four men equals one in terms of rush lanes, in the run [game], everything we're doing. We're all accountable to the defense." -- Marinelli on his defensive line.

The series:



Running backs


Wide receivers


Offensive line