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Cowboys roster rundown: Youngsters must step up along defensive line

The Dallas Cowboys saw Randy Gregory leave via free agency but their defensive line is chock full of potential from young performers in 2022.

DALLAS — After a long and arduous offseason, training camp finally arrives for the Dallas Cowboys this week which makes for a good time to check in on the roster.

Next up is the defensive line, where the Cowboys made headlines in a negative way when defensive end Randy Gregory departed. The former 2015 second-round pick from Nebraska, who earned the Cowboys' forever investment despite his struggles with suspensions, eschewed Dallas' offer at the last moment to join the Denver Broncos in free agency.

To compensate, the Cowboys' front office has been extolling the talents of free agent defensive end Dante Fowler, fifth-year defensive end Dorance Armstrong – who re-signed with the club on a one-year deal – and second-round rookie defensive end Sam Williams. Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones has spun it that Dallas got a three-for-one deal despite Gregory getting away to the AFC West.

Armstrong had a career year in 2021 with five sacks through 13 games. Fowler generated 4.5 sacks last season with the Atlanta Falcons, and was a part of the 2020 team where current Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was in his last season with the Falcons as head coach. 

Williams, meanwhile, had 12.5 sacks and 15.0 tackles for loss in his final year at Ole Miss and was a player that Quinn championed during the draft process.

For as much as the Cowboys are leaning on younger players on the defensive line, two-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence remains the veteran leader of the unit. However, Lawrence played in just seven games last season, tied with his rookie year for the fewest of his career. 

When available, the former 2014 second-round pick generated three sacks, five tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and returned his lone interception 40 yards for a touchdown to show that he can greatly impact a game when he’s on the field.

Tarell Basham and Carlos Watkins remain the versatile veterans who aid in run support. Watkins got in on the touchdown bonanza last season as he returned a 20-yard interception for a touchdown to go along with his 32 combined tackles. Basham, a former New York Jets outside linebacker, had 3.5 sacks and three tackles for loss through 17 games in 2021.

Second-year Chauncey Golston is listed as a defensive end, but the Cowboys have been using their former third-round pick more on the inside. Golston provided Dallas with 32 combined tackles and one sack last year.

The Cowboys have a bevy of defensive tackles on the roster. Quinton Bohanna figures to be the Cowboys' 1-technique at 6 feet, 4 inches, 360 pounds. Bohanna was a space eater and had 10 tackles in his 14 games as a rookie.

Osa Odighizuwa played a big part as Dallas' 3-technique, generating 36 combined tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and 11 quarterback hits through 16 games. Odighizuwa was able to enjoy a bounty of snaps as a rookie due to the injury to Neville Gallimore that gobbled the first 12 games of his 2021 campaign.

Gallimore will be going against fourth-year defensive tackle Trysten Hill, who is entering a contract year, and rookie fifth-rounder John Ridgeway. If Ridgeway is able to make any headway at the position, it could convince the coaches and personnel department to cut bait with Hill, their 2019 second-round pick, at the 53-man deadline.

Josiah Bronson is another option for Dallas as a second-year defensive tackle who spent time with the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints for seven games total. The 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pounder collected 12 tackles.

Undrafted rookie Markaviest Bryant is 6 feet, 4 inches, 254 pounds and listed as a defensive tackle, though Quinn will aim to find the best spot for him to maximize his skillset. Austin Faoliu played one game for Dallas last year, collecting two tackles through 13 defensive snaps and two special teams snaps.

Mike Tafua, an undrafted free agent from Utah, could find a niche as an edge rusher with his 6-foot-3-inch, 249-pound frame.

Do you think the Cowboys’ defensive line will thrive in 2022? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane

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