Depending on who you ask, the Cowboys' situation at pass rusher is either slightly concerning or a complete dumpster fire. There are a lot of moving parts in this equation but it is still hard to see where they can really expect improvement after being cellar-dwellers for the past two seasons. For us, we just want to see the picture and message become a lot clearer, Rod Marinelli gave insight when he recently spoke to the media:
"I always use the term ‘four equals one,’" he said. "Four men equals one in terms of rush lanes, in the run (game), everything we’re doing. We’re all accountable to the defense."
Marinelli is hoping that by creating a rotation that it will result in more production. There is a tremendous amount of respect from NFL peers for Marinelli and his ability to coach players. The only thing that I have questioned him in the past is on his notion that anyone can be coached. It's just not true, sometimes you need talented players in the equation. However, I'm actually quite impressed with the way the Cowboys handled their offseason approach to acquiring talent.
They didn't get into the bidding wars for overpriced talent such as Olivier Vernon but instead signed most of their own guys like Jack Crawford. In fact, Marinelli touched on the importance of Jack to their rotation:
"He had four sacks as a rotational guy and had a lot of hits, pressure, he’s fresh," Marinelli said. "He comes in and has a great motor."
They did go after one defensive lineman in Cedric Thornton that they felt they had to have. He severely upgrades the middle of their defensive line and perhaps puts Tyrone Crawford in the best position to succeed. Though Nick Hayden gave the Cowboys everything he had over the past few seasons, they needed more athleticism from the 1-tech position and Thornton gives them that extra boost. Another box proverbially checked off was Thornton's position flexibility, something we hear the coaches talk about quite a bit. Thornton is still a very undervalued signing that could pay off big.
The Cowboys also grabbed a restricted free agent that they have rumored to have liked since he was nabbed by the Seahawks two years ago. Benson Mayowa is a player that still has development ahead of him but has shown that he's a fast learner. Marinelli hopes that with just a pinch of Marinelli magic, he'll become a solid piece in their rotation. Notice that the word rotation keeps coming into play. Mayowa believes he's in the right place to make something of himself and that he has the best teacher too:
"In two years I played 30 percent of the plays," he said. "That's nothing. That's two years, plus my rookie year, that's probably 700 plays for my career. I know I've got my best football ahead of me because there's opportunity. If you take opportunity, that's how you shine. And you run with it. That's what I'm trying to do."
"I feel like he's going to take me to the next level," Mayowa said. "When you work like that, it will take your game to another level."
Where teams like to have one elite rusher mixed with some other talented individuals, Marinelli will need to work a rotation of fresh rushers that can get the job done on Sundays. He told the local media that ideally he's looking for an eight-man rotation. That rotation will most important as they begin the season without their two most talented edge rushers in Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, both will miss time serving suspensions, though Lawrence is in the appeals process. Despite this, the show must go on and the Cowboys treated their draft as such. Not getting to caught up in desperation picks, but more or less letting the draft fall to them.
The Cowboys targeted a pass rusher in the second round of this year's draft but both the guys they liked when right ahead of them. It wasn't until the third round that they added 3-tech defensive tackle Maliek Collins that Jerry Jones has referred to as a 'cornerstone' player. Marinelli spoke to 105.3 The Fan recently and expressed his satisfaction with the player:
"Go back when Bo Pelini was [at Nebraska]. He was unbelievable, and he was playing our system. I had their line coach in here before, and they’re doing everything we do. His movement and patterns, he was rated higher this year. And they changed systems, he was standing up as a linebacker at times, they blitzed him as a linebacker, everybody does it differently. No big deal. I try to evaluate all that."
Then the Cowboys' were able to execute the selection of a player that both Bill Jones and I believe could be a steal of this class; Charles Tapper.
And there you go....Charles Tapper is a Dallas Cowboy...same athleticism as Emmanuel Ogbah...2 rounds later...great 4th round pick— Bill Jones (@CBS11BillJones) April 30, 2016
Tapper is highly thought of as a guy that could make an immediate impact with his superb athleticism and measurables, at least the 'Hot Rod' seemingly has high hopes for him. When speaking to the media, Tapper said he was given his first assignment, study tape of Hall of Famer, Deacon Jones:
"Watching him, he coined the phrase sack, so watching him get 173 sacks I'm definitely going to try to emulate my game after him with his motor and his high energy and his attitude and his aggression he brought to every game," Tapper said. "I'm definitely going to bring that to [my game]."
Again, we see this becoming a strength in numbers type of message, one that I wrote about a few months ago. It's always been Marinelli's preference to have freshness on the defensive line in order to be able to hang with the offenses in today's NFL. Guys like David Irving, Terrell McClain, Ryan Russell and even Rodney Coe will all have their opportunities to earn playing time.
Though some of us had a hard time piecing together what we believed the Cowboys' approach would be, they seem to have a more clear and level way of thinking. Rod Marinelli isn't so interested in one player or the other, he just wants the sum of their parts to translate to success on the NFL Gridiron. It's a team game, a team effort to use their motors and various skill sets to go right after the opposing passer. Instead of focusing so much on which player is going to breakout, we need to shift that into a collective thought process. Rod Marinelli is looking for a formidable defensive front, in which every rushmen can have his own piece of the pass rushing pie.