For the past two-plus decades, the Dallas Cowboys’ focus shifts solely to the Senior Bowl in late January. That’s the result of an organization stuck in football purgatory, one that hasn’t reached the Super Bowl since the 1995 season.
The Philadelphia Eagles joined the New York Giants as division rivals that have now made multiple trips to the Super Bowl since the Cowboys’ last run.
For the Cowboys, it’s back to the drawing board and attempting to put pieces in place for an extended playoff run. This team prides itself on building through the draft and has plenty of areas to address going into 2018.
The groundwork starts this week with the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys have the 19th overall pick in the NFL Draft, which will be held April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Defensive line again?
The Cowboys had the eighth-ranked defense at the end of the season, but that’s a tad misleading. This is a unit that couldn’t make a pair of 30-point outings by the offense turn into wins early in the season, and went through prolonged droughts without a takeaway or sack. The Cowboys could use help at all three levels, particularly on the defensive line.
It’s an area they addressed with last year’s first-round pick by selecting defensive end Taco Charlton, and another pass rusher or interior player makes sense. Unfortunately, Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst backed out of the game. He’ll certainly be on the Cowboys’ radar in the first round.
Still, there are solid edge rushers in UT San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport, Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand and Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and defensive tackles in Texas’ Poona Ford and North Carolina State’s B.J. Hill.
Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes is an interesting player, pegged as a mid-round option, who has the physical traits of becoming an elite pass rusher, but didn’t produce on the field.
The Cowboys could use help on all three levels. They spent several draft picks on the secondary last season, and that unit could still be addressed early in the draft.
Safety Byron Jones regressed last season, and the Cowboys have the option of moving Chidobe Awuzie from cornerback to safety. Alabama’s Levi Wallace, Florida’s Duke Dawson and San Diego State’s Kameron Kelly might be the best cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl, and the top safeties include West Virginia’s Kyzir White and Texas A&M’s Armani Watts.
Linebacker is a position of interest, too, with Anthony Hitchens set for free agency. Among the linebackers of note are USC’s Uchenna Nwosu, Virginia’s Micah Kizer and North Dakota State’s Nick DeLuca.
The Cowboys’ passing game struggles were well documented last season. Dak Prescott endured a sophomore slump, and wide receivers Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all had down years.
The Cowboys will be on the lookout to add more weapons. Wide receivers of note in the Senior Bowl include Colorado State’s Michael Gallup and Oklahoma State’s Marcell Ateman.
Also keep an eye on South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert. He’s a name who could be associated with the Cowboys for more than just his first name. Goedert posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and could become the heir apparent to Jason Witten.
Witten is coming back in 2018, but he’s stated multiple times that he views his situation year-to-year at this point in his career.
Offensive line depth
The Cowboys have what’s considered one of the top offensive lines, but they weren’t as dominant last season as in previous years. After all, they had 40 percent turnover with the losses of Doug Free (retirement) and Ron Leary (free agency).
There is an opening at left guard with Jonathan Cooper set for free agency, and swing tackle became a concern last season with injuries sidelining Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys could target offensive line help on Day 2 of the draft, and there are a couple notable guards to watch at the Senior Bowl — UTEP’s Will Hernandez and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn.
Tackles that could be had in the middle rounds include TCU’s Joseph Noteboom.
The Cowboys’ coaching overhaul has been among the main news early on this off-season. Jason Garrett is returning as head coach, as are offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But there’s plenty of shuffling of assistants and candidates will continue to surface this week at the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys remain in the market for a special teams coach, a linebackers coach, a quarterbacks coach, a tight ends coach and a secondary coach. A few of those positions could be filled internally, but the Cowboys are exploring their options.
They’ve already filled a couple vacancies by bringing in Paul Alexander to coach the offensive line and Sanjay Lal to coach the receivers.
Here are some notable athletes from the region who will be competing in the Senior Bowl this week:
Texas: Defensive tackle Poona Ford
Texas A&M: Safety Armani Watts
TCU: Offensive tackle Joseph Noteboom
Oklahoma: Quarterback Baker Mayfield, fullback Dimitri Flowers, defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
UTEP: Guard Will Hernandez
UTSA: Defensive end Marcus Davenport