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The forgotten one: Why Dorance Armstrong is still a key part of the Cowboys pass rush

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The former Jayhawk appears to be left out of the mix, but that might be a little premature.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When you look around this Dallas Cowboys football team, it brings about much happiness to see so much depth. The team continues to improve the overall strength of their roster, but as it stands now - they’re pretty rock solid in a lot of areas. Overall, there isn’t a lot of mystery as to what players will be holding down the starting/key rotational spots on the team.

But one position group that does bring about uncertainty is the defensive end position. The team has All-Pro star DeMarcus Lawrence holding down the left side, but they have a huge hole on the right after Robert Quinn signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Chicago Bears. The team has many intriguing options that include the possible return of both Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory, as well as the utility knife flexibility of veteran Tyrone Crawford. But one guy who appears to be just an afterthought in all this is third-year player Dorance Armstrong. Some experts who follow the Cowboys closely, such as BTB alum K.D. Drummond, don’t have him making the team.

There are some reasons why Armstrong isn’t getting much consideration to be in the mix along the defensive line. One of the biggest factors is the crowded status of the position group. Not only would the presence of formerly suspended Smith and Gregory add new bodies to the rotation, but the free agent signings of new starters Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe now push a lot of Crawford’s reps to the outside. And finally, let’s not forget all the young talent the team has added since Armstrong was drafted. Players like Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks, Bradlee Anae, and Ron’Dell Carter all bring about their own bags of hope and promise to the team. While Armstrong is already halfway through is rookie deal, Jackson and Jelks offer three years of team control while rookies Anae and Carter give them four.

But don’t forget about...

Remember how excited the war room was when Armstrong was available? There were rumblings that the Cowboys considered trading back to get back into the third round so they could select Armstrong. They ended up remaining patient, and much to their pleasant surprise - he was still available when the team was on the clock in the fourth round. Never was the war room more excited that weekend, and that includes a draft that featured the selection of Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams (who the team wanted enough to pass up trading to Seattle for Earl Thomas), and Michael Gallup. Make no mistake about it - they loved the value of Armstrong there.

Excitement about one’s potential is great, but what does it really mean? Well, as a rookie Armstrong earned a respectable 273 defensive reps (27%), which was the fourth-most for defensive ends, trailing Lawrence, Gregory, and Taco Charlton. Clearly, those other guys were going to get more chances considering the investment the team made in them.

Last season, things appeared like they might be getting better for Armstrong when he was having himself a great training camp. With Lawrence recovering from shoulder surgery and Quinn dealing with a hand injury, Armstrong got extra opportunities and he made them count. Things were looking quite promising for him entering the regular season.

Once the regular season rolled around, though, Armstrong was set aside. Tank and Q handled most of the work while free agent Kerry Hyder was next in line. And when the team traded for Michael Bennett midway through the season, Armstrong just wasn’t getting many chances to make a splash.

It is worth noting that the team liked what they had with him to cut loose Taco Charlton after just two seasons with the team. And while things are crowded on the edge, Armstrong could have the veteran advantage over the youngsters. Unlike Taco before him, Armstrong shows a lot of patience to read plays, keeping his head up to see where the action is going. He exhibits good discipline and doesn’t get caught up over-pursuing. His length and agility also make him a factor against the run.

There’s still a lot to like about Armstrong, and before we latch on to one of the shiny new pass rushers, keep in mind - this guy can still play.