2013 Stats: The Cowboys were 27th in rushing defense (128.5 yards allowed per game) and 30th in yards per attempt allowed (4.7). Dallas was also 25th in sacks with 34.
Salary: Henry Melton ($6.875 million per season, $1 million guaranteed, free agent 2017), Anthony Spencer ($2 million per season, free agent 2015), DeMarcus Lawrence ($1.3 million per season, free agent 2018), Terrell McClain ($1 million per season, free agent 2017), Jeremy Mincey ($1.5 million per season, free agent 2016), Tyrone Crawford ($685K per season, free agent 2016), Nick Hayden ($680 K per season, free agent 2015) and George Selvie ($680K per season, free agent 2015).
2013 Year in Review: Last season was a disaster for the defensive line, primarily due to injuries. One of the faces of the franchise, DeMarcus Ware, only played in 13 games and was a shell of his former self (six sacks on the season compared to 11.5 in 2012). 2012 third-round draft pick Tyrone Crawford, who played in 16 games as a rookie, suffered a season-ending injury on the first day of training camp. Veteran Jay 'Jeremiah' Ratliff couldn't pass the conditioning test and was eventually cut from the team. Anthony Spencer played in Week 2, but that was the only action he saw all season. Jason Hatcher was one of the lone bright spots (career-high 11 sacks), but he signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington in the offseason. Riddled with injuries from day one, this unit was simply not able to function last season.
2014 season: New season brings new hope, but will it be the same results? The Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round with hopes that he would be the replacement for Ware. Those plans were derailed in the first week of training camp as Lawrence broke his foot and will miss up to six regular season games. With the young defensive end missing so much key practice time, I don't know how much the team can expect from him in 2014.
In the offseason, Dallas signed veteran defensive tackle Henry Melton to a one-year deal with three option years. It was a low-risk move for a guy who is very productive when healthy. In 2013, he only played three games as he tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The 2012 Pro Bowler is dealing with a groin injury now, but is expected to play in the season opener.
Another 2012 Pro Bowler who is looking to play this season after dealing with injuries in 2013 is Anthony Spencer. In a surprise move, he was not placed on the PUP list at the beginning of training camp as he is continually working to get back into game shape. Spencer hasn't practiced yet with the 'Boys and it remains to be seen if they will keep a roster spot open for him when the season starts.
Starting Left Defensive End George Selvie had a career-year in 2013 as he finished second on the team in sacks with seven. With the injury to Spencer last season, Selvie made the most of his opportunity and is firmly listed as the starter on the depth chart.
The loss of Lawrence to injury has veteran Jeremy Mincey starting at right defensive end. The former Jaguar and Bronco has 20 career sacks, but doesn't have more than three sacks in a season since 2011 (8).
The surprise of training camp so far has been the play of defensive tackle Zach Minter. The former Bengal is rising up the depth charts and should see plenty of playing time this season.
As a unit, the defensive line is still depleted, but Pro Football Focus labels Melton and Spencer as 'good starters.' Mincey and Selvie are considered average starters while Nick Hayden is a poor starter.
Bold Prediction: Spencer plays in at least eight games this season.
Eddie Middlebrook can be reached on Twitter@emiddlebrook.