Second Year Spotlight: NFC East

Demarcus Lawrence – DE – Dallas Cowboys Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, Lawrence was one of the better edge rushers in that draft. He had better than adequate size, long arms, and was quick and agile. Injuries hampered his rookie year, and he was only able to play in seven regular season games and two playoff games. In the regular season, he had 9 total tackles and added three more tackles and two sacks in two playoff games. This year, with injury woes behind him and with added bulk and strength, he is looking to play a much more prominent role. Dallas has added former Carolina pass rusher Greg Hardy, and in the second round, selected Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory. Add to that mix Jeremy Mincey and the Cowboys have on paper quality depth at the defensive end position. The problem is Hardy is scheduled to miss 10 games because of a league suspension, and Gregory is vastly undersized. That leaves Mincey and Lawrence being in position to hold the fort until Hardy returns. Watching Lawrence in college during the 2013 season, I know what he brings to the table. He has the pass rush talent to be a very good NFL pass rusher. He needed to improve his run defense. With his added size and strength, run defense should not be a problem. I look for Lawrence to play an important role early in the season and by the time Hardy returns, he will not want to give up his role. Jay Bromley – DT – New York Giants The Giants were not happy with the way their defense played last year, and because of that, a switch at the defensive coordinator position was made. Long time coordinator Perry Fewell is gone and former Giant defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is back. That means every defensive player has to prove himself to the new coach. Last year, the Giants drafted Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley in the third round with the hope that he would help upgrade the depth in the middle of the defensive line. At Syracuse, Bromley was an undersized 3-technique who was very good at getting penetration to disrupt the run and a good inside pass rusher. When he got to the NFL, he flashed the pass rush ability but struggled versus the run, and with a defense that had problems stopping the run, Bromley did not get a chance to play that often. Bromley spent the offseason getting bigger and stronger and is now ready to play a more prominent role in the Giants new defensive scheme. The interior defensive line depth of the Giants is not that strong. Cullen Jenkins is 34 years old and the most talented player could very well be third year player Johnathan Hankins. The opportunity for Bromley to get valuable playtime is there; now it’s up to him to earn it. Marcus Smith – OLB – Philadelphia Eagles Last year, the Eagles drafted Smith in the first round, hoping that he would give them needed edge pass rushing production. The draft choice who ended up being the most productive was second round wide receiver Jordan Matthews who finished the season with 67 receptions for 872 yards and 8 touchdowns. Smith, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment, playing in only eight games and not recording a tackle. The Eagles still have that need for an edge rusher, and Smith will be given every opportunity to show he deserved being selected in the first round. The current starters are Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Trent Cole is gone and Smith will be given every chance to step into the role that Cole had. Smith needed to increase his strength and power, and all indications are he has done that. Now it’s up to him to show he can live up to his first round draft position. Trent Murphy – OLB – Washington Redskins With Brian Orakpo gone, there is no question the outside linebacker set to line up opposite Ryan Kerrigan is Trent Murphy. Murphy, who was the Redskins second round selection in 2014, played well as a rookie. He finished the season with 32 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. This year, much more is expected. Looking back at his career at Stanford, the things that stood out for Murphy were his non-stop motor and his instincts. With a year under his belt in the NFL, Murphy should be much more comfortable and be ready to play at a high level down after down. My feeling is that Murphy will be one of the more improved defensive players in the league, and he will become a standout on the Redskins defense. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe