Sometimes a player breaking out has as much to do with his teammates as it does himself. After all, if Wally Pipp never took that day off, it's no sure thing that we would have ever heard of Lou Gehrig, amirite? When one guy can't play, for whatever reason, that gives somebody else the chance to go out there and really shine.
That's kind of the situation I feel that Dallas defensive lineman Cedric Thornton finds himself in with the Cowboys. For his first four seasons, Thornton was a member of the Eagles and was no slouch in Philly. Last season he started all 13 of the games he played in and had over 30 tackles and a sack while playing almost exclusively just on early downs.
At 6'4 and 309 pounds, he was listed at defensive end but actually played all over the place on the D-line, from five-technique all the way to a shaded nose tackle, and he did a decent job everywhere they put him.
After signing with the Cowboys this offseason, that versatility combined with some suspensions and injuries sustained by his line mates in Dallas has me thinking Thornton could be primed for a really big year with the Cowboys.
I actually believe Thornton is better suited to be in a 4-3 attacking style defense like what Dallas runs, anyway. He more than held his own in Philly, but I thought he looked a lot better on the occasions when he had a chance to be in a gap or stunting laterally rather than when he had to try to two gap. The fact that Thornton still found a way to be productive against the run when not on an edge is probably going to translate into him being even more of a beast now that he gets to play in the gaps.
From what I understand Thornton is penciled in at nose tackle at the moment, which makes sense when you consider the fact that the Cowboys just paid Tyrone Crawford to be their three-technique of the future. However, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Crawford out at end some and Thornton shifted over to three-technique every so often while both projected starting defensive ends, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, serve out their four-game suspensions at the beginning of the year.
Hell, I also wouldn't be surprised to see Thornton out at defensive end some for that matter, at least on early downs. He isn't a big time pass rusher on the edge, but he does know how to play the run pretty well out there.
Even if he stays at nose tackle I can't imagine a scenario where that's the only place he lines up all season, especially with Benson Mayowa and rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins also recovering from injuries this offseason. Those guys may be fully healthy by the time the season opens or they may not, but Thornton should be good to go regardless. As many coaches will tell you, sometimes the greatest ability a player can have is availability. Considering Crawford's injury history, Thornton may well be the healthiest Cowboys defensive lineman heading into week one.
Sometimes all a guy needs is a shot to show what he can really do. Cedric Thornton played a lot of football for the Eagles and did a good job, but their scheme didn't really showcase his abilities the way I think the Cowboys' 4-3 will under my old defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. With the chance to play all over and on an edge, you will see a much more productive and explosive player than we have seen thus far, particularly as a pass rusher.
Somebody will have to hold it down in Dallas until all the suspensions and injuries work themselves out. My money is on Thornton to go out there and git 'er done!
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