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Training camp roster breakdown: Examining Cowboys defense and special teams

The Dallas Cowboys enter training camp hoping that the defense will recover from a poor performance in 2020 while special teams aims to continue an upward trajectory

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys gear up for their 62nd season in club history, looking to put their 6-10 mark from a year ago in the rearview mirror.

Part of the reason for the Cowboys' losing ways in 2020 was due to the problems on defense. With defensive coordinator Mike Nolan out and former Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn in as defensive coordinator, the Cowboys seek to run a multiple defense with a bevy of packages to generate pressure, cultivate turnovers and stop the run.

Special teams stays the same with John Fassel entering his second year as special teams coordinator. The 47-year-old is looking for ways to improve the transition phase of the game and help Dallas come up with hidden yardage and free possessions to get an edge on opponents.

Here is a look at the Cowboys' changes on defense and special teams.

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Defensive end — DeMarcus Lawrence remains as the Cowboys' war daddy, but Dallas could be pleasantly surprised off the edge with Randy Gregory. The 28-year-old only has 38 career games under his belt, but flashed promise last season with 3.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles in 10 games.

The Cowboys could also see increased production from Dorance Armstrong, who enters the last year of his rookie contract. Second-year pass rusher Bradlee Anae will go against third-round rookie Chauncey Golston and 2020 undrafted free agent Ron'Dell for playing time.

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As part of Quinn's multiple packages philosophy, the Cowboys also have two 3-4 defensive ends on the roster in Carlos Watkins, formerly of the Houston Texans, and Brent Urban. The Cowboys also added another edge rusher in Tarell Basham, who had 3.5 sacks as an outside linebacker for the New York Jets last year.

Defensive tackle — Third-year Trysten Hill and sophomore Neville Gallimore are holdovers from the Jason Garrett era when the Cowboys ran a more typical Tampa 2 front. They will compete with third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa and undrafted rookie Austin Faoliu and veteran Justin Hamilton. Dallas also drafted a space-eater in the sixth round from Kentucky in Quinton Bohanna, who weighs 360 pounds.

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Linebacker — Pro Bowlers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are the top guys to play in the Cowboys' 4-2-5 packages, but they could easily be challenged by first-rounder Micah Parson and fourth-rounder Jabril Cox, both of whom offer youth and speed at the position.

Dallas is also experimenting with moving former Falcons free safety Keanu Neal to linebacker. Veterans Luke Gifford and Francis Bernard will seek to provide depth and contributions on special teams as undrafted free agent Anthony Hines from Texas A&M and last year's undrafted free agent, Azur Kamara, nip at their heels.

Cornerback — Last year's second-round pick Trevon Diggs grabbed hold of the No. 1 corner job with his team-high three interceptions. The Cowboys will have veteran depth with Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis. Dallas added two rookies in the top-100 of the draft in Kentucky's Kelvin Joseph (second round) and Oregon State's Nashon Wright (third round).

Maurice Canady gets his first shot with the Cowboys after signing as a free agent in 2020, yet opting out just before training camp. C.J. Goodwin can fill in at cornerback, but is mainly a dominant gunner for Dallas on special teams.

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Fourth-year Deante Burton and second-year Reggie Robinson will compete for playing time along with sixth-round pick Israel Mukuamu.

Safety — Donovan Wilson emerged in his second season as the Cowboys' playmaker on the backend with two interceptions, 3.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and two fumble recoveries in 14 games, 10 of which he started.

The Cowboys signed veterans Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee, the latter of which figures to be Wilson's partner in the secondary. Darian Thompson remains on the roster along with Steven Parker, who bounced around on Dallas' practice squad last season.

Undrafted free agent Tyler Coyle from Purdue may impress the coaches enough to demand consideration when making final cuts.

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Specialists — Greg Zuerlein remains as the kicker, but the Cowboys went in another direction with Jake McQuaide – another former Los Angeles Ram – joining the squad as the long snapper over 16-year stalwart L. P. Ladouceur.

Punter will feature a position battle as incumbent Hunter Niswander seeks to retain his roster spot with ex-Texan Bryan Anger looking to usurp.

Do you think the Cowboys’ defense will be respectable in 2021? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.