Published July 22, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – One day, one down.
The war of attrition that is the NFL season began Saturday in both Davie, Fla. and Oxnard, Calif., as the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys got a jump on the rest of the competition by reporting to training camp a few days earlier than most.
The decision to explode out of the starting blocks proved untimely for the 'Boys, who lost defensive end Tyrone Crawford to a season-ending Achilles injury on Sunday.
"Crushing," Dallas VP and director of player personnel Stephen Jones told the team's official website when discussing Crawford's injury. "Absolutely crushing."
To most of you, that might seem like a bit of an embellishment because the 6- foot-4, 280-pound Crawford was just a guy during his rookie season in 2012, playing in nearly 29 percent of Dallas' defensive snaps and amassing 20 tackles in 16 games.
But, remember the 'Boys fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in the offseason and replaced him with the aging Monte Kiffin, who worships at the altar of the Tampa-2 defensive philosophy.
That means the Cowboys are switching to a 4-3 "under scheme" which requires a Brian Urlacher-type middle linebacker, smart, zone-savvy defensive backs and a live, active big-bodied end who can hold the point of attack on the edge.
The latter was supposed to be Crawford, a third-round pick out of Boise State in 2012.
The Cowboys have plenty of pass rushing talent at defensive end in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer but neither of those players is going to stick his hand in the turf and be the type of anchor at left end Crawford was projected as being.
Projection turned to panic, however, when Crawford went down while performing a non-contact slalom drill, immediately yelling: "Achilles. I can't believe this," according to those in attendance.
"It looked pretty bad. I don't want to lie," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said.
Jones, who witnessed the injury, talked about how important Crawford was in the move to the new 4-3 scheme.
"He's a guy that can play end and tackle," Jones said. "It just makes you sick because we really had high hopes for him this year."
A potential replacement for Crawford doesn't exactly stand out amongst the other ends assembled in Oxnard, leading many to believe that the Cowboys will look outside the organization at veterans on the unemployment line.
Former Falcons star John Abraham would be the splashy kind of addition Jerry Jones gravitates toward, while Juqua Parker is a player the Cowboys are intimately familiar with after Parker spent seven years in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles before landing in Cleveland a season ago.
Stephen Jones balked at that kind of thinking, however.
"The guy that will replace Crawford is already on the roster," the younger Jones stated "We certainly like the guys on our roster better than anyone that is out there."
The depth assembled looks more than shaky. Kyle Wilber is an undersized tweener making the transition from outside linebacker who seems more like a backup for Ware on the right side. Ben Bass, on the other hand, looks the part but his movement skills are better-suited inside at defensive tackle.
In Jones' defense, though, while Abraham might excite the faithful, he's a pass-rusher in the mold of Ware and Spencer and not the type of base end Dallas wants. Parker, on the other hand, is 35 and undersized with a ton of mileage on his legs.
Perhaps the real answer is the very thing the Cowboys are already facing -- the attrition we spoke of.
After all, every other team will start facing it soon enough.
"This is part of our game, and it's disappointing," Jones told ESPNDallas.com "Crawford is probably our top young defensive lineman. That's a shame. Knowing him, he's such a diligent worker, he'll get right on it and be back."