After one of the very first OTA practices that we in the media were allowed to attend, I remember walking up to Monte Kiffin after one of those sessions and asking him how much not having guys like Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Tyrone Crawford for the entire season limited what he could scheme on his defense. He thought about my question for a bit, looked at me and smiled, then said “It didn’t help.”
Kiffin was not looking for excuses because coaches are always taught to play the hand that is dealt to them but in this case, you couldn’t have not felt bad for both he and Rod Marinelli when they first walked through the door at Valley Ranch and saw those names of Spencer, Ratliff, Hatcher and Ware with Crawford off the bench for their 4-3 front. Of those names I mentioned, only Crawford is left so this defensive line has had to be totally rebuilt.
Resources have been spent on free agents and draft picks were added at all levels in order to raise the talent level of this front. Of all the new pieces that were added here, the one that is the most interesting was rookie DeMarcus Lawrence from Boise State. When the scout’s studied Lawrence’s work, they viewed him as a Top 25 player and if the opportunity did present itself, Jerry Jones and these scouts were going to use whatever means it took to add him to the roster. On the second day of the draft, Jones was not in the mood to sit and watch Lawrence come off that board ahead of him, so he sent a 3rd round pick to the Redskins for Lawrence’s rights.
What we learned in post draft from new defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli was the plan to bring Lawrence along slowly at that right defensive end and let unrestricted free agent, Jeremy Mincey start on that side ahead of Lawrence until he learned the ropes. When practices opened, it was Lawrence that was running with the first defense while Mincey was dealing with a small set back. What I learned from watching him work not only that first one but the final one at AT&T Stadium that the physical and mental side of the game was not too much for him.
The more he worked, the better he played and to the point that in my view, as much as we were told that Mincey would most likely be the starter opening day against the 49ers, I would not discount Lawrence taking that job from him at some point in time while this team is in Oxnard. It’s not that Mincey is that poor of an opponent but Lawrence just has too much talent not to give him serious consideration for the position. It’s not surprising that Lawrence has had some early success, what is surprising is how small the learning curve has become.