When DeMarcus Lawrence rejoined practice ten days ago, he had "everybody frothing at the mouth," according to the always ebullient Jerry Jones.
That excitement was driven partly by the relief of having the 2014 second-round pick back at practice and possibly ready to help a near moribund defensive line, but it was driven at least as much by the way Lawrence looked and moved.
"Since he’s been off he has been in the weight room," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He looks great. He has filled out even more. He’s had a couple of days of practice. He has fresh legs now. But he really looks quick and explosive. Now he has a chance over the next couple of weeks to hone in on his skills, hopefully we will get him going."
The No. 34 overall pick was placed on IR-Recall after breaking his right foot at practice late in July. But that didn't stop him from from continuing to work on his NFL debut. For the better part of three months, Lawrence had been working with strength and conditioning coaches Mike Woicik and Kendall Smith on getting in NFL shape - work that has paid off:
"I feel like I put on at least 10 pounds basically just working out every day. That’s all I could do," Lawrence said. "I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and in some way I feel like I ain’t lost my step either. It’s a good feeling I have about coming back."
The extra 10 pounds of muscle on Lawrence's 6-3 frame should put him at around 261 pounds, and that added bulk has not gone unnoticed:
"Our trainers actually said it’s probably good for him [that he had some time off]," Stephen Jones said. "He’s reshaped his body. But he’s got two weeks here to get ready to go. I fully expect him to be a significant contributor starting right after Week 8."
Expectations in Dallas are high for the former Boise State standout. Mike Fisher of CBS DFW reports that immediately before the Cowboys drafted Lawrence, assistant director of player personnel Will McClay leaned on the war-room table and said:
"Lawrence," McClay said matter-of-factly, "is a Quarterback Hunter."
If Lawrence turns out to be the Quarterback Hunter the Cowboys envision him to be, great; if that happens in his rookie season, even better. But for now, Lawrence offers the Cowboys something that has been in short supply this season: pass rushing options.
In their nickel defense, the Cowboys now have George Selvie, Anthony Spencer, and DeMarcus Lawrence as options outside, while Tyrone Crawford, Henry Melton, and Jeremy Mincey are options to rush the passer from inside. Moving Mincey inside is something the Cowboys have worked on in training camp and were planning on until Lawrence suffered his injury. For Mincey, playing defensive tackle feels more like his natural position anyway:
"I’ve always been a good inside rusher," Mincey said. "That’s what’s kept me around the league for a while. I’ve got real quick feet. I was a hooper in high school and I use those same crossover techniques on the inside. You’ve got a short field of space. It’s a quicker route to the quarterback."
DeMarcus Lawrence will provide the Cowboys with more depth - specifically: more quality depth - on the defensive line. And just as importantly, Lawrence gives the Cowboys more options in their nickel formation. And that's a good thing any way you look at it.