With Robert Quinn's return, Cowboys D-line deeper, stronger

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn returns this week following his two-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

FRISCO, Texas -- There was a time, not too long ago, when the Dallas Cowboys would have defensive line tryouts on a Tuesday and be forced to play the winner in a legitimate role on Sunday.

Now, the Cowboys are in a situation where their top picks in the 2017 and 2019 drafts, Taco Charlton and Trysten Hill, can't even be active for a game because of the depth along the defensive line.

The Cowboys will get a boost to their pass rush this week in Robert Quinn, who was suspended the first two games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.

"Hopefully your team is built in such a way that it's competitive," coach Jason Garrett said. "Oftentimes over the course of the season, injuries come into play there and determine who's active and inactive, but you'd like to have it be a competition. And it's a good feeling to have as a team if you've gotten to the point where it's competitive and you're having hard discussions about, 'Hey, this guy can help us like this and this guy can help us like this.' That's a good place to be in."

If there is one area the Cowboys need to improve upon early in the season, it is sacks. They have just two in two games. In his eight seasons, Quinn has 69 career sacks in the regular season with a high of 19 in 2013. He had 6.5 sacks last season, which would have been second to DeMarcus Lawrence's 10.5 on the Cowboys.

"Awesome level of professionalism, no doubt about it," secondary coach/passing-game coordinator Kris Richard said. "First and foremost is the guy. He's an awesome human being. Just having a short amount of time that we've been able to be around him, we love him. He gives us great effort. He comes to work. He works really hard every day and he cares about his craft. And then after that, he's a tenacious pass-rusher. He has a high standard for himself and he's been a top-notch player in this league for years now, so it's like that's what we expect. We expect him to come back and get right back into the groove."

It is just a coincidence that the team that traded Quinn to Dallas in the offseason, the Miami Dolphins, are the first team he will see in his return on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox).

"He better bring a f------ lot knowing that this team just traded him to us," Lawrence said. "I know, s---, that would sit heavy on my heart, basically saying I'm not good enough to be on y'all's team, so we're going to let ya go. He's got work to do. A lot of work. And a lot of pain."

Quinn also has to prove he is healthy. He had surgery in early August to repair a fractured left hand suffered during training camp. The Cowboys expected him to be ready for the opener against the New York Giants, but the day after the operation the league announced his two-game suspension.

The Cowboys have not been in constant contact with Quinn during the suspension but Garrett expects him to play some Sunday.

"He's been a really good pass-rusher in this league for a long time, an elite pass-rusher," Garrett said. "He makes those sack/fumble plays that change games. ... I think when you study him more and have a chance to be with him, you realize how much he emphasizes being a really good run defender, so it's not, 'Hey, let's trot out the pass-rusher in passing situations.' He wants to be a complete defensive end."

Bringing Quinn into the mix is far different than what the Cowboys did during their 2013 season.

Dallas used 20 different defensive linemen, including household names such as DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer. Some of the other no-names became serviceable players, such as George Selvie and Nick Hayden, but many were the here-today-gone-tomorrow types, such as Corvey Irvin, Jason Vega and Drake Nevis.

Starting in 2011, the Cowboys used the draft to revamp their offensive line, picking Tyron Smith in the first round. They used first-rounders in 2013 and 2014 on Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, respectively. In 2015, they signed a first-round talent in La'el Collins as an undrafted free agent, and added Connor Williams in the second round in 2018.

In that same time frame, the Cowboys have used first-round (Charlton, 2017), second-round (Lawrence, 2014; Randy Gregory, 2015; Hill, 2019) and third-round (Tyrone Crawford, 2012; Maliek Collins, 2016) picks to build their defensive line, while hitting on low-cost free-agent pickups such as Antwaun Woods, Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder and middle-round picks such as Dorance Armstrong and Joe Jackson.

"We had some good front-line players, but we probably didn't have the depth to handle injuries as we wanted," Garrett said. "You adjust and you go."

Woods suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee last week against Washington and will be iffy for a few weeks. Crawford is battling a hip issue that makes it difficult for him to practice and he could need time to rest.

Hill should be active for the first time Sunday against the Dolphins. Charlton's future is murky and he could be let go to make room for Quinn on the 53-man roster, but despite his "free me" plea on a since-deleted Twitter post, the Cowboys could choose to keep him.

The Cowboys don't want to give up on depth.

Richard, who came to Dallas in 2018 from the Seattle Seahawks, was asked if he has been around a line as apparently deep as the Cowboys' line.

"That answer is yes, but it has been awhile," Richard said. "We're just absolutely looking forward to everybody getting together, everyone meshing and everyone getting to the groove."