Cowboys expect, imagine big things on D

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
3:03
PM ET
Things can look really rosy in OTAs, and this is the case for the Dallas Cowboys and their redesigned defense. Starting safety Barry Church, who's recovering from an Achilles injury that cost him 13 games last year, believes the Dallas D can be the very best in the NFL this year. Per Todd Archer:
“If we can remain healthy through the whole season, the sky’s the limit for this defense,” Church said. “I mean we’ve got stars at every level and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the No. 1 defense in the league.”

Sure, it's good to have goals and to believe in yourself. But the "if we can remain healthy" is a key clause in there when discussing a defense that lost five starters to injury last year. And because of that rather large "if," any talk about how great the Cowboys' defense can be is mere speculation. We've not seen a full season, for example, of Church as a starting safety. We've not seen a single game of Matt Johnson as one. Sean Lee is a brilliant player when on the field but has had problems getting through seasons healthy. Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware have been limited by injuries in recent years.

The Cowboys' starting 11 on defense looks very good -- especially if you buy the team's party line about Church and Johnson as the starting safeties. But considering all of the changes that are being made with Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli bring brought in to change the front to a 4-3, and considering the injury question marks and the fact that neither safety is proven, there's no way to feel confident about any prediction we make about the Cowboys' defense heading into 2013. Church is certainly well within his right to dream big, and the quality of the starters on the Cowboys' defense lends merit to his hopes. But until we see this unit play a few games together, hopes are just that.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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