Cowboys vs. Chargers Preview: Pull for the DL Greybeards

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Marcus Spears

Dallas concludes its Oxnard summer with a walk through today, and then packs up the operation and heads to San Diego, for some two-team practices with the Chargers.  CN will have a correspondent there and I hope to have some reports and photos up when the sessions conclude. 

A pleasant surprise from the Oakland shutout was the play of some unsung defense linemen.  Let’s begin at the top, where the ever-maligned Marcus Spears got a start at left defensive end and was man of the match, when the first Cowboys and Raiders units squared off.  He was a regular presence in Oakland’s backfield, creating penetration and tackles on run downs and consistent pressure on pass plays.

Late in the contest, un-drafted rookie free agent Ben Bass put on a similar show when the backups played.  He’s had his moments during camp and translated them to the playing field better than his young peers Monday night.

The push by two guys rated low on the defensive line means the Cowboys could have a surplus of good linemen.  Figure the following players are locks:

Jay Ratliff
Jason Hatcher
Tyrone Crawford

The first two were money players for the Cowboys last year.  They provided the best pressure and most negative plays by some margin.  They were the two DTs Dallas used when it went to nickel.  Crawford didn’t stand out as I had hoped, but he’s stood out in practices and showed a lot of flexibility during the game.  Rob Ryan lined Crawford up at both DE spots in the 3-4, at nose tackle, and at DE and DT in a four-man line.  The 3rd round pick from Boise State isn’t going anywhere.

That leaves an active competition for the remaining spots.  And before we rank them, we should ponder how many linemen the Cowboys will keep?  They’ve usually kept six since going to the 3-4, but you tell me which you keep from this lineup?

Sean Lissemore
Clifton Geathers
Josh Brent
Ben Bass
Marcus Spears
Kenyon Coleman

DLs kneeling: Lissemore, Crawford, Calloway, Spears, Coleman
Standing: Brent, Bass, Ratliff

Will the team cut the youngsters, who are almost sure to be snapped up.  (Look at Bill Nagy, who was grabbed by the Lions off waivers, despite having ankle surgery last week.)  Lissemore looks like a probable keeper, but once you get to the final five, there will be some tough decisions, especially if Spears blows it up again versus the Chargers.  Do you cut your productive starter, and risk using still-green kids?  Do you risk cutting a versatile giant like Geathers, who is showing power working inside and outside?   Could you sneak a Bass onto the practice squad if he has another strong second half Saturday?

Clifton Geathers has a Leon Lett-like frame

Do you discard Josh Brent, when at 320 lbs. he offers the big-boy nose tackle the fans have screamed for?  And what of Kenyon Coleman, who has that Jim Jeffcoat-like ability to rope-a-dope his opponents and produce at key times?

Maybe it’s not such a bad problem to have.  Teams value young defensive linemen just as much as they do young offensive linemen.  The supply never rises to meet the demand league wide.  We know the Cowboys need supplements at the wide receiver and interior offensive line spots.  A Bass or a Geathers, provided they rip it up some more, could be the bargaining chips in a swap.

Pull hard for all of them, for the kids and the greybeards Spears and Coleman.  A surplus at defensive line could help fill those key deficiencies elsewhere on the roster.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com
  • OskieOskie

    Convert ’em to OL?

  • Blue Eyed Devil

    Trade a Marcus Spears for some team’s solid backup center? I like that idea.

    • pos_poca_madre

      anything we can do for a center
      I have been on message about center
      It just does not seem that we can put together a good O-Line with the pieces we have
      Costa is not an NFL Center
      All of the NFL (31 teams) knows all you have to do is push the interior of the O-Line and they will shut down the Cowboys Offense
      If we do nothing with the O-Line then we need to go 4 WR sets like Jimmy Robinson did for Arron Rodgers in GB to keep Romo healthy

    • jarhead

      Who will give up their backup center for spears? There will be plenty of #3 centers available in the next week. Teams will have to be down to 80 soon.

      Looking for more from crawford in this game. Adrian hamilton will have my eye too, will be at the game tomorrow.

    • Lee1936

      Yes, a good idea. Consider how how many years it has taken various coaches to build enough of a fire under him to dominate (somewhat) for part of the first quarter of an exhibition game. This guy is a hall of shame, career under-performer.

  • FakeBillyTubbs

    Raf,
    Can you really work a trade close to the end of camp? Won’t teams just wait to see who gets cut?

    • pos_poca_madre

      not if both teams have surplus at mutual needs
      DE for WR or C

    • http://www.cowboysnation.com Rafael Vela

      Deals will likely be made in 12-13 days. The final cut down is two weeks from today.

      • http://www.cowboysnation.com Rafael Vela

        No guarantee that Dallas will make any deals. Might just wait on cuts as you said, but if any are made, that’s when they’ll likely go down.

        • FakeBillyTubbs

          Camp cuts have to go through normal waiver wire process right? So if a trade happens, it might be with a team with a lower priority.

    • Steven Van Over

      Teams with high WW positions wait, those with low ones and a chip to spend (heavy talent at one position) will trade if value is there.

  • pos_poca_madre

    I am pulling for Ben Bass !!

  • Taylor

    My instinct is to go young. We have seen the top of Coleman and Spears. The kids are cheaper and over the the long run, have possibly more upside. Have Bass tweak a knee, and put stash him on IR for a year, then see what’s there. Keep Lissemore, Geathers and Brent.

    • Lee1936

      Jarhead, I like the way you think.

      • jarhead

        Ha! Don’t say that too loud, you’re a minority around here.

        • Oklahoma

          I look forward to any insights you take away from watching the game in person (e.g. re: Doug Free’s performance). My sense is that being at a game allows for a different perspective than the TV. I attended a Chargers-Boys pre-season game in SD when D. White was under center. Being SD in August, it was a beautiful night and it turned out to be an entertaining game. What I remember most was Louis Kelcher walking close by in street clothes – and being surprised at the size of that man. Have a great time!

          • Oklahoma

            Oops, not the guy to insult…sorry Louie.

    • http://twitter.com/rogerlight Roger B. Light

      Agreed. If Spears is only playing to potential now that his job is on the line, he will settle back into his old self once he has secured it for the season. Better to go young. If Bass continues to impress, you gotta think about inserting him in the line up sooner rather than later, so no IR for him in that instance. What has Brent shown to make him more valuable than the others?

    • Steven Van Over

      The fate of Coleman and Spears rest upon the goal line and short yardage D. That is where your run stoppers are most valuable.

  • pos_poca_madre

    I am starting to think this was a good draft…..

  • http://www.cowboysnation.com Rafael Vela

    Agree with posters who question Spears’ value but wonder if a team like a NE which has a million TEs and needs D help would swap one for a kid like a Bass? Or a Denver which has interior line depth?

    • Lee1936

      I like the Denver idea better, because we have more talent at TE, even without Witten, than we have at interior OL, especially at Center.

    • Michael

      I want to see what TE Andrew Szczerba has to offer before I think about trading for a TE. He might be a player.

      I don’t want to part with any of the Cowboys young DL. They are hard to find and will be needed as the season wears on and bodies wear down. A pass rush in December wins big games.

      As to the OL… there are nothing but bad and worse options. I was at the Raiders game and saw them in action (or inaction). For what it is worth, Arkin improved as the game went on. Right now, he just isn’t strong enough at the POA and his line calls are wanting. But, next year he will either be the LG or Center. He has great feet and better size than Costa. The sad truth is that Costa cannot be replaced because he makes the line calls.

      One move I would make after the first week is to cut Dockery and Loper and add Holland.

    • hardwater

      It appears the current O-Line (even when healthy) will too often have Romo running for his life and do little for the running game. Hell, now even Doug Free is shaping up to be a disappointment at RT. Anything they can do to improve the O-Line is imperative to this season’s success.

    • Steven Van Over

      If I am a team with a high WW I wait for cuts. If I am a team like the Pats… I make the trade.

    • Taylor

      The argument for keeping Spears or Coleman is that they would be valuable on a contending team. Sadly, this is a 7-9, 9-7 team. Building the team mandates that some risks be taken with young players. The best hope for a meaningful trade would be with a team that suffers a rash of injuries.

  • pkinsa

    Keep Lissemore,Brent,Bass and Spears in addition to Ratliff,Hatcher and Crawford. I really like the commitment to Geathers,but has he shown enough?Idon’t think so. As LB’s go, keep Conner,Lee,Carter & Albright inside and Ware,Hamilton,Wilbur,Spencer and Butler outside. For DB keep Sensabaugh,Chuch,Johnson and Silva at safety and Carr,Claiborne,Scandrick,Jenkins and Butler at CB. That is 24 players and should be enough.

    • Steven Van Over

      Geathers will be on the team. He is a pet cat. He would have to totaly tank rest of pre-season, and that is not happening. He is to big and powerful. Still a year away from bringing it, look for flashes this year.

  • pkinsa

    I would like to see the team trade some players in the final year of their contracts for draft choices or OL players. Guys like V. Butler,Jenkins or Spencer.

    • http://www.cowboysnation.com Rafael Vela

      Sure, but it takes two to tango. Who’s going to be more attractive to a trade partner?

  • eliason

    Looks like a potentially strong DL and clear gains in the secondary. Ryan better cook up something great this year with these groceries.

  • http://twitter.com/Mword22 Michael Worden

    somewhat related roster question for you: could they put Wilbur on IR now so they don’t use a roster spot on him. i feel like this will now be a lost season for him, and would rather have a spot for a Geathers etc. than save one for a rotational LB who may not play. wouldn’t Parcells do this?

    • http://www.cowboysnation.com Rafael Vela

      Not me. Wilbur is evolving steadily. I didn’t see consistent every-down play from Butler starting in place of Spencer. Who’s to say Wilbur doesn’t pass VB during the year? PUP him, but I would not put him on IR. I think he can contribute down the stretch.

    • Steven Van Over

      The man can play. Come December and post season, you want him on the field. To talented.

  • RudeMood

    Saw an article on the NFP site where center Dan Koppen, former starting center for the Patriots, is in a fight for his roster spot (http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Koppen-in-fight-to-retain-his-job.html). He broke his ankle in the opener last year but he was a starter and a solid center for several years before that (and it sounds like the ankle is fully healed). Koppen for Spears sounds like a perfect trade scenario to me.

    • http://www.cowboysnation.com Rafael Vela

      For Dallas, sure, but again, put yourself in Belichick’s shoes. He would probably not make that deal. Who would he ask for instead? And would you give him up? That’s the game.

      • RudeMood

        I think whether Belichick would or wouldn’t all depends on the circumstances (of course). NE has two other centers that are quite a bit younger and, according to the NFP article, “capably filled the roll after Koppen went on injured reserve”. Koppen is almost 33 and if he’s not going to start, there’s a possibility that he could be cut. Kinda like Spears. While Spears may not be better than the projected NE starters at DE, he might be an upgrade over one of their backups and might fit in nicely in their rotation. If Belichick thinks so and Koppen may not even make it out of camp, why wouldn’t he pull the trigger on that deal? A lot of speculation and probably wishful thinking on my part I know.

  • AustonianAggie

    I think Dline is our weakest D unit now. Still it’s hard to select three names to eliminate from this group:

    Sean Lissemore

    Clifton Geathers

    Josh Brent

    Ben Bass

    Marcus Spears

    Kenyon Coleman

    Colemen, Lissemore, Brent and Spears are known quantities. How many Oline players will we carry? Seems like Dallas has gone as many as ten, but have never needed more than 8. Spears — can he really keep it up? Or is this sort of an illusion? Heck, maybe with the new DL coach, Spears has a career year. Dallas was normally pretty good VS the run last year, I’m not sure Brent and Bass can replicate Spear’s ok-ness. It’s hard to get away from incumbent starters.

    • Lee1936

      So, our problem now is that it’s not clear whether to keep Coleman and nomotor Spears, compared to the young, developing, untested youngsters? This is a real problem, only because Coleman and Spears are not clearly keepers. They are mediocre, marginal starters, but nobody knows yet that the youngsters will be any better. Coleman can’t keep a job. When Spears was evaluated for the draft, scouts were critical of his motor. He coasted in college, and he has coasted in Dallas–long enough.

  • pkinsa

    Since I posted who would be kept of Defense,here is the Offense: QB-Romo,Orton.RB-Murray,Tanner,Jones (although I think Dunbar would be a better selection).FB-Vickers.TE-Witten,Phillips,Hanna.WR-Austin,Bryant,Holmes,Radway,Coale,Beasley(Yes-6)OL-(only keep 9)Costa,Kowalski,Bernadeau,Arkin,Livings,Smith,Free,Parnell & McQuistan.
    That leaves one more roster spot-Ithink Geathers will be kept, but maybe an OL off waivers.