Expectations can’t be much lower for a Cowboys defense heading into the 2014 season.
After finishing last in the league, worst in team history and third worst in league history a year go, the Cowboys have done little to improve the talent base.
Uncertainty and lack of continuity because of injuries and turnover are the main reasons normally optimistic owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys have an uphill battle in 2014.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the team’s prized free-agent signee, missed the entire preseason because of injuries. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain, another free-agent signee expected to a big part of the rotation, may not even play in Sunday’s season opener against San Francisco 49ers because of an ankle sprain that sidelined him the entire preseason.
Defensive end George Selvie, the leading returning pass rusher with seven sacks, will play in the opener with a injured shoulder that has bothered him throughout the preseason.
And that’s not even including rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick from Boise State who was supposed to replace the departed DeMarcus Ware as the primary pass rusher. Lawrence is out for the first eight weeks with a fractured foot.
Or a linebacker corps that’s in a state of flux with position changes and new starters in the last two weeks.
Or cornerback Orlando Scandrick, the team’s best defensive player in training camp who suspended for the first four games of the season.
“It’s challenging, but you’ve just got to work through it,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “That’s the cards we’re dealt and you just work through it. Especially in my role, I think leadership is probably the number one thing, and you lead the front.”
It’s so bad that coach Jason Garrett had to resort to generics when asked what he liked about their defense just days before 49ers game.
“You know, a lot of different things,” Garrett said. “We have a lot of different combinations of guys that have come from a lot of different places. We’ve drafted guys; we’ve signed guys; we’ve brought veteran players in. A lot of guys have been here from the start; some guys got here more recently. We just like how that group works. The guys that have been with our team understand what we’re asking them to do, defensively. And I think the more they do it, the better they’re getting at it. We like the competition. We like the number of different guys playing on the defensive line for us, a number of different linebackers. All those guys are fighting for a role. We think that’s good and we think everybody is benefiting from it.”
Marinelli said the defensive has gotten better in learning their concepts following a preseason in which the Cowboys allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL.
But he made no concrete promises regarding expectations against a run-oriented 49ers team that finished third in the league rushing.
Just more generics about make shift defensive line that has added two defensive ends since final cuts on Saturday.
“I believe in these men have really worked hard,” Marinelli said. “We’re getting a little bit healthier, not a whole lot, but we’re getting some guys back. The one thing I think you can identify with this group is how hard they’re going to play. They’re going to play hard, and we just have to be effective and we have to have eight guys in a rotation and keep fresh and go.”