Every once in a while in the NFL, injuries are a good thing. Kenyon Coleman’s injury after only 7 games was used as an excuse for the Cowboys’ defense for a while, but in reality, Dallas discovered they have two young defensive ends that can play. Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford both made plays this season. Had it not been for Jay Ratliff’s injury and Josh Brent’s bad decisions, which caused the emerging Lissemore to have to slide inside, we might be looking at the defensive end position as one of strength going into next season. Marcus Spears turned in his brand of plodding, underwhelming but consistently solid run defense, and Jason Hatcher took another step forward. Let’s take our player-by-player look at the position next season.
- Kenyon Coleman: For 7 games this season, Coleman played as well as he has in his time in Dallas. Unfortunately, he is 33, missed 9 games due to injury, and never turned into the player he was for Rob Ryan in Cleveland while playing at the Death Star. Kenyon Coleman is a good football player and a great run stopper, but age plus injury and a high cap number for his position usually equals not on the roster next season. If he resigns for the veteran minimum then I would have him back, but I would prefer a younger player in his roster spot.
- Jason Hatcher: Hatcher had his best year as a pro this season. He went from a young, promising player who complained about a lack of leadership to a player turning in consistent solid performances and who also became a vocal leader. 27 tackles, 2 assists and 4 sacks are solid numbers from a 3-4 defensive end, and Hatcher has locked down a starting spot on this defensive front next season.
- Marcus Spears: Spears has been much-maligned since he was drafted as one of two first round picks along with Demarcus Ware. To make matters worse, Parcells seemed to think more of Spears at draft time. So with that hype Cowboys fans have had a hard time appreciating his solid run defense, because he lacks any real defensive play-making abilities. He doesn’t really rush the passer, he doesn’t often bat down balls and he rarely forces fumbles. He is the definition of the no-name defensive lineman. Most people will be calling for his head when it’s time for roster cuts next training camp, but I personally would take Spears’ age of 29 over Coleman’s 33 going forward.
- Tyrone Crawford: This is the man that restored my faith in the Cowboys’ front office. Crawford is a rookie, who was not a first round pick, that for all intents and purposes contributed from day one. He amassed 16 tackles and 4 assists while building a wall against the run late in the season. He and Lissemore were genuinely the only bright spots on the Dallas defense against the Redskins in Week 17. I honestly believe that if Lee and Carter return healthy and the Cowboys find a giant mound of a man early in the draft as their nose tackle, then the nightmare of 200 rushing yards allowed in that game will never be repeated.
- Sean Lissemore: I truly hope that I am discussing Lissemore in this position group next season. Due to injury Sean was forced inside to nose tackle late in the season, and he performed really well. Lissemore had a career high in tackles (15 with 20 assists) and 1 sack this season in only 10 games. That time off because of injury is part of the reason that I am concerned about the Cowboys “pulling a Ratliff” on Lissemore and moving him inside. He simply doesn’t have the size for it at 303 pounds. I think he can be a real asset for Dallas going forward, and he just signed a deal that has him locked up long term for much less than he would have gotten after this season. Lissemore was a bright spot in a dark season.
- Ben Bass: 2 games, 1 tackle – who knows? Unless he takes some giant leaps forward, I expect him to be replaced by a drafted player on next year’s roster. However, this far down the depth chart, if he stays, no harm no foul and maybe he develops into a player. Lissemore did.