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Cowboys fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong’s assignment: Learn about Chris Doleman

Rod Marinelli wants Armstrong to emulate a Hall of Famer.


At the Cowboys recent rookie mini-camp, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had a specific assignment for defensive end Dorance Armstrong. It was sort-of a homework assignment.

Rookie defensive end Dorance Armstrong wasn’t around Rod Marinelli very long before he was given his first assignment. The Cowboys defensive coordinator has been known to have players study former stars.

Armstrong, a fourth-round pick out of Kansas, was told to find out all he could about Hall of Fame pass rusher Chris Doleman.

Armstrong gave a short assessment of Doleman.

“He was a real good dude, a monster off the edge,” he said. “He played real physical at all times. I feel like I can get into that and be like him.”

That’s the short answer, but what can we glean from the fact that Marinelli wants Armstrong to emulate Doleman? He must think they have some similarities in style or physical makeup, so let’s delve into Doleman just a bit. There are the stats - Doleman is a Hall of Famer who was a three-time All-Pro, was voted to the 1990s All-Decade team, had 150.5 sacks in his career along with 44 fumbles, 24 fumble recoveries and eight interceptions. That’s impressive.

Doleman started his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and spent a couple of years wasting away at the position.

...he was being asked to do so many things he never got a chance to develop into a pass rusher.

”They’d have me dropping in coverages, covering tight ends, chasing down running backs and maybe -- like, two or three times a game -- I’d get a chance to rush the passer,” Doleman said. “Then they’d wonder why I didn’t get any sacks. It doesn’t work like that. The pass rush takes time to develop, there is a feeling-out process in each game, you need multiple looks at a guard or a tackle to get an idea of what he is capable of and what he is going to do.”

Armstrong was also thought of as a 3-4 OLB by many teams heading into the draft, but Dallas will obviously use him as a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt. We can already see the similarities to Doleman.

Armstrong will be on the small, light end of defensive ends. At the time Doleman played, he was also thought of like that, but helped usher in a new era for the position.

“Chris was ahead of his time,” [Jared] Allen said. “He played a lot lighter than guys did then. He was relentless, explosive off the edge and used his hands so well. He was so long and could bend like no other. Great leverage, which is what football is all about.”

Perfect example for Armstrong to follow. A lighter guy using technique and leverage to win the battles.

”He had incredible balance and body control to be able to stay on his feet and arch himself back into the quarterback, which was how he was able to create so many fumbles and big plays.”

Fumbles brings us to another point about Doleman. He was a master at creating turnovers.

As evidenced by the 44 forced fumbles, Doleman was excellent at making sacks hurt an opponent twice as much by stripping the football from the quarterback’s hands.

”Chris’ sack numbers are just a part of it,” [Ex-teammate] Wiggin told “ Even more impressive, he had what we referred to as a ‘hat trick,’ which was the sack, the strip of the ball and the recovery of the fumble; probably more so than anybody in football, including Reggie White.

The Cowboys defense is making a concerted effort to increase their turnover production. One thing Doleman talks about is pulling up just a bit at the point of a sack and really concentrate on stripping the ball instead of just crashing into the quarterback.

As fun and momentum-shifting as a violent sack might be, Doleman was among the first to realize that pulling back a bit on the force provided a better opportunity to achieve a more impactful play.

Doleman: “When you separate the ball from a running back, you just have a fumble. But for a quarterback, that’s a sack and a fumble. That’s a much bigger play. It wasn’t about putting brutal hits on them, but controlling them and getting the ball from them.”

One final thing Armstrong can learn from Doleman is his professional attitude. He treated it as a job, something to take seriously and to always respect.

Bankers carry briefcases. Attorneys do, too. Same with business executives. You don’t see a lot of NFL players with briefcases. They generally go with backpacks. I’ve been covering the NFL since the 1980s, and over the past three decades, I have seen only one player toting a briefcase.

Chris Doleman.

He said he kept his playbook in the briefcase and explained his business was playing in the NFL and it made sense to him to carry his business-related documents in a briefcase.

It did make sense, when he put it that way. Doleman went about his business about as effectively and efficiently as any NFL defensive end ever did.

Armstrong may not carry a briefcase with him, but if he learns all the lessons that Doleman can teach him, that will go a long way towards having a productive career in the NFL.

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