A few days ago I looked at the offensive needs now that the big free agency moves appear to be over. Next I am going to take a look at the defense. There have been several big changes on the defensive side of the ball and a few holes have been created by some of the free agency departures and the trade for Jon Kitna. Here is the position by position analysis.
Defensive Tackle: Jay Ratliff continues to play at a pro bowl level at tackle, but the big question is who steps in to give Ratliff a break or, in a worst case scenario, who steps in if Ratliff gets injured. I expect this position to be addressed at some point in the draft. It looks like Junior Siavii will compete with whoever is brought in via the draft. Siavii has the size needed in the middle but is still a relatively unknown commodity with his limited experience.
Defensive End: Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky are the clear starters here. The loss of Canty hurt but Olshansky looks to be every bit the player that Canty is. Depth at end is pretty good with Jason Hatcher and Steven Bowen backing up the starters. Marcus Dixon still might develop into a backup here too, so I don't see a major need at defensive end.
Cornerback: The depth took a big hit when Anthony Henry was traded to Detroit, but the remaining cornerbacks have all shown they are capable of playing good football in Wade Phillips' defensive scheme. Terrance Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins will see most of the action but Alan Ball also stepped in last year and showed he can get the job done. The worry here is the fact that there are only four cornerbacks on the roster. I expect multiple draft picks to be used to build the depth at the cornerback position. A bargain free agent pick up isn't out of the question either.
Safety: Ken Hamlin is a clear starter, but there are question marks after that. Gerald Sensabaugh seems to be tabbed as the second starter, but there could be competition for that role if the Cowboys draft a safety as expected. Pat Watkins will hopefully return from his neck/shoulder problems to provide depth. The rest of the depth chart is filled with guys who may not make the roster depending on the upcoming draft picks. There is still a very good chance that Keith Davis will return next season to provide more depth.
Outside Linebacker: Demarcus Ware is a beast and an all-pro on one side but the second outside linebacker looks like a battle between Anthony Spencer and Greg Ellis. I wouldn't count out a Greg Ellis trade before or during the draft especially if Greg Ellis keeps complaining about his role. Either way it is time for Spencer to step up and prove that he was worth a first round pick. He was hampered by injuries last year but has shown flashes of his potential. Depth here is a major concern. There really isn't much talent on the roster here besides these three players so I would expect to see move made for an outside linebacker via the draft or free agency prior to the start of training camp.
Inside Linebacker: Bradie James and Keith Brooking are set to start as the inside linebackers. Bradie James has turned into the vocal leader of the defense and Keith Brooking should be able to help provide a spark with his enthusiastic attitude. The pass coverage in nickel situations took a big hit when Kevin Burnett left for San Diego. It is time for Bobby Carpenter to finally show what he can do. There are rumors that the Cowboys have shopped Carpenter but I would be surprised if there is much interest in him. I think Carpenter will be a solid player if he is given a real chance to play. He hasn't done much since 2006 when Bill Parcells was still here, but I believe he is a bad practice player who will get it done when it counts. The rest of the backups here are primarily special teams players who shouldn't be counted on to make big contributions to the defense. I expect an inside linebacker to be picked up in the draft. If Carpenter is traded then a bargain veteran will probably be brought in to be the primary backup.
The defensive roster has changed significantly since the season ended, but Wade Phillips seems to be getting the players he wants in his system. Hopefully the new players will be as successful in the Wade Phillips defenses as they have been in the past. The big issue here is going to be building chemistry on the defensive unit. Hopefully the tackling will improve this season since that seemed to be the biggest problem last year. I can only hope that the team will be tackling in training camp this year.