Injuries force Cowboys to use no-name defensive front

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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galloway The word came down Monday that DeMarcus Ware reportedly will miss four games, out for an extended period with a quad injury.

You might say Ware had already “missed” the two games previous to the Sunday night win over the Redskins, and DeMarcus was gone before halftime in that victory.

The Ware we know has not been the Ware we’ve seen lately.

But now?

Well, they read like names at roll call for participants in the Feds’ witness protection program: Drake Nevis. Caesar Rayford. David Carter. Edgar Jones.

But moms, dads, next-of-kin, and maybe Jerry Jones, will recognize these names. They are football players.

Obscure players, sure, but they all do defensive line work. And in case you misplaced your flip card, they currently work for the Dallas Cowboys.

Go back to the Cowboys’ training camp in Oxnard this summer, and the witness protection program names in the D-line included George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Kyle Wilber, among others.

But shoot, man, Selvie and Hayden have become almost “marquee” players, and Wilber jumped up Sunday night in Arlington and made a national TV name for himself.

The victory over the Redskins, upping the Cowboys’ record to 3-3, was largely about these NFL boat people/D-linemen, who float from team to team after repeated failures to nail down a job elsewhere.

Revenge of the Rejects is always a good story, particularly when a W is involved.

NFL reality, however, says outside of quarterback, the defensive line is the most critical area of constant week to week need.

How long can you float with boat people?

The NBC announcer guys flashed pictures Sunday night of what was supposed to be this season’s front four for the Cowboys.

Ware. Jason Hatcher. Jay Ratliff. Anthony Spencer.

It was a handsome group photo. There was also NFL pedigree and substance involved. Even Hall of Fame credentials with Ware.

But ...

Spencer will not see the light of this season because of injury. Neither probably will Ratliff for the same reason. And now there’s this new Ware issue.

The big man was having a good go of it Sunday night before going out for good in the first half with the quad injury. But let’s face it, Ware had not played well the last two weeks against Denver and San Diego. Obviously, he’s ailing, and at age 31, injuries will tend to linger.

That leaves Hatcher, who has been, well, sensational, playing his butt off while surrounded by a lot of guys who have arrived, and are still arriving, off the NFL street.

But when Wilber, actually a 2012 fourth-round draft pick who had drifted into no-factor obscurity, made the biggest defensive play of the night on RG3 (a sack and fumble recovery), there was no Hatcher involved.

Taken out of the game for a much-needed breather, Hatcher watched as Wilber, undersized as a defensive end, was playing on a front line of Selvie, Hayden and Nevis, the latter just picked up a couple of weeks ago.

That’s remarkable.

But we also all know the defensive line, along with the entire defense, struggled mightily against Mr. Peyton the week before, and was a mess against Philip Rivers and the Chargers in the second half the week before that.

Unfortunately, common football sense says that will be the trend instead of the exception that was seen against the Redskins.

That doesn’t, however, mean praise shouldn’t be aimed in the direction of Rod Marinelli (in charge of the D-line) and Leon Lett (defensive tackles coach) for making productive players out of guys who have failed elsewhere, some of them being repeat failures, and then they suddenly showed up at Valley Ranch.

But 10 games remain, including back-to-back road trips to Philly and Detroit coming up next, and until Ware returns, there is no help coming.

Coming off a gutty defensive front line performance against the Redskins, let’s not drift negative this morning, but Revenge of the Rejects is not exactly a common story over the long haul of an NFL season.

Yes, there’s been bad luck with the injury wipeout on the defensive front, but the Cowboys are also not a team well-equipped to handle even one major injury blow, much less a multitude.

Salary cap hell is an ongoing theme with this organization, and once again, the salary cap is a critical component when it comes to finding replacement parts.

Even if or when a seasoned defensive lineman becomes available, there is salary attached to players with experience in the league. The Cowboys have no cap space.

Instead, it’s a team that surfs the bottom of the “available” list, and continues to run in cheap replacement parts with hopes that another Selvie or Hayden might turn up.

The Cowboys won a game Sunday night because of defense, Dwayne Harris in the return game and special teams overall.

Harris has been a productive player since last season. Special teams are much improved this season under new coordinator Rich Bisaccia.

Give full credit to the D-line guys in the Cowboys’ version of the witness protection program, while knowing that without a healthy Ware, it’s a group that will have to defy NFL logic in the coming weeks.

Randy Galloway, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @sportsdfw

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