The Dallas Cowboys‘ defensive line should receive a boost on Sunday when Henry Melton, their key signing in free agency, will take the field for the first time after not playing in the preseason due to injuries.
Melton tweaked both his knee and groin in training camp, but will be expected to start against the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium.
For the Cowboys to have any shot at having an average defense this season, they will need Melton to return to the high level of play he achieved while he was a member of the Chicago Bears.
The defensive tackle made the Pro Bowl in 2012 under the coaching of current Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and is more than capable of being a force in the trenches with his ability to help break down the pocket.
Against a ground-and-pound team like the 49ers, it’ll be especially important for Melton to penetrate the middle as they prefer to control the game by handing the ball off to Frank Gore or by letting Colin Kaepernick make plays with his feet. Last season, the 49ers ranked third in the league in rush attempts and will surely look to establish their dominance early on the ground after their offensive woes this preseason.
This will be Melton’s first chance to be one of the lone positive notes for an otherwise porous defense that will already be without the likes of Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Spencer to open the season. Sunday will mark the first live game action for the University of Texas product since tearing his ACL as a member of the Bears on Sept. 22, 2013.
The absence of a proven outside pass rusher will force Melton to provide consistent pressure on stopping not only opposing quarterbacks, but to be a steady cog against the running game. Luckily, Melton possesses the talent to do both. But like the rest of the Cowboys’ defense, the question will be whether he can stay healthy for a full 16-game schedule.
In his 2012 Pro Bowl season, Melton had six sacks and made 32 tackles. The Cowboys are in dire need of similar production.