Reading the defense: Clowney ready to contribute

You might have heard that the Dallas Cowboys defense is going to be pretty bad this year. Considering what it looked like last season and the losses the team suffered in the offseason, it seems like a safe assumption. You might have also heard that the Cowboys have added a promising young defender from an SEC school who has been having a hard time finding a place to latch on in the NFL.

We're talking of course about ... Rolando McClain.

Needing help in the middle of the field in the wake of losing Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury, Dallas added the twice-retired McClain who is seriously challenging for a starting job. McClain's best season came with the Raiders in 2011, when he posted 79 tackles and five sacks but he hasn't been in the league since 2012. It might be a stretch for him to return to that previous level of production this season (he's posted a combined 1.5 sacks in his other two NFL campaigns).

Without Lee, there aren't a lot of names that jump off the page for IDP owners. In fact, a lot of non-Cowboys fans might be hard pressed to name three of the team's defensive starters (no Googling!). Then again, some Cowboys fans might have the same issue. But someone is likely to emerge as a productive defensive player. You just might have to wait a few weeks to figure out who it is.

Four downs

» Giants linebacker Jon Beason is inching closer to a return to action. The veteran defender practiced Monday for the first time since suffering a pair of foot injuries in mid-June. At his best, Beason is a tackling machine, racking up 100-plus stops in each of his first three NFL seasons. Lately, however, injuries have become a major part of his reality. Over the past three years, Beason has missed a combined 28 games. If he's back to top form, Beason should add stability to a defense that was lackluster in 2013, but it might be awhile -- if ever -- before he returns to his prior level of production.

» If there was ever any doubt, you can now erase it ... Jadeveon Clowneywill play in Houston's Week 1 game against Washington. The No. 1 overall pick missed the final two preseason games after suffering an undisclosed injury. What he did show in his two appearances was mighty impressive. Now Clowney will get the chance to chase down Robert Griffin III in his regular season debut with an opportunity to be an IDP contributor from the first week.

» Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley has made a dietary change after being demoted during the preseason. The big man has lost weight, returned to the starting lineup and sounds rejuvenated for the season ahead. Fairley and Ndamukong Suh form one of the toughest interior combinations in the league. Defensive tackles aren't normally the best IDP options, but a slimmer, more motivated Fairley could be an exception to that.

» The Jets could be without Dee Milliner to begin the season. The young cornerback is still nursing a high ankle sprain suffered nearly a month ago and is in jeopardy of missing the season opener against the Raiders and rookie quarterback Derek Carr. The Jets have also said goodbye to Dimitri Patterson, which leaves Antonio Allen and Darrin Walls as the presumptive starters. With so many question marks on all sides of the ball, this is probably a matchup to avoid at all costs.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

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