OXNARD, Calif. – Bill Parcells had an old line about the importance of versatile tight ends in his offense. The former Cowboys head coach would motion his hand forward like a traffic cop and growl, "Keep 'em coming."
The same could be said for Rod Marinelli's defensive line rotation – and here in training camp, the veteran defensive coordinator is fielding the deepest crop of linemen he's had in seven years on Jason Garrett's staff.
Sixteen are in camp. Eight to 10 usually make the final roster. Currently seven are back from last year, not counting Randy Gregory, who remains indefinitely suspended and away from the team.
But the Cowboys added veterans Robert Quinn, Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington in the spring to offset Gregory's absence. They also drafted three more linemen: top pick Trysten Hill (second round) and edge rushers Joe Jackson (fourth round) and Jalen Jelks (seventh round).
So much young talent. Only so many jobs. Just how tough will this cut be on Aug. 1?
"We'll, they'll cut it down," Marinelli said, referring to the players' efforts in camp in preseason. "I've just got to see guys that want to work, do things right, the consistency, because the talent level is really good and it's really even.
"Now, there's a couple guys, Law (Pro Bowler DeMarcus Lawrence) and Quinn, some of these guys jump out a little bit. But there's not a lot of difference between first, second and third with some of these guys. It was like Woody (Antwaun Woods) last year came in (on the) fourth team and ended up being first team.
"We'll see it as it goes, but it starts to separate itself with little things. But I like them all because of their character. Great character guys that really work."
It's arguably the most intriguing battle in camp. After five padded practices, here's a closer look at five linemen worth monitoring through the workouts and preseason games this month:
Dorance Armstrong: A fourth-round pick a year ago, Armstrong settled into a backup role behind Lawrence as a rookie. This year he's getting additional reps while Lawrence rehabs from shoulder surgery, and he's been explosive off the edge. "I feel he's making another big step right now so far," Marinelli said. In one-on-one drills Thursday, Armstrong used an inside spin move to catch Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith off guard. That doesn't happen often.
Trysten Hill: The second-round pick left an early non-padded practice with cramping, and Marinelli made this analogy to reporters: "The train's leaving. He's the caboose right now." Indeed, the swift pace of practice is an adjustment for most rookies. But Marinelli loves Hill's potential because of his motor as a 310-pound interior rusher – and his down-to-down effort since has been noticeable. "He's not quite close to the dinner table of the train yet, but he's getting closer," Marinelli said.
Jalen Jelks: The seventh-round pick only weighs 260 pounds, but he's got a slippery pass rush set with a rangy frame comparable to Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. (Not a direct player comparison!) The Cowboys view him as more of a left end prospect, and he's shown quickness rushing off the edge. "He's kind of jumped out a little bit," Marinelli said. "He's got my attention."
Daniel Wise: You might say it's uphill climb for Wise because he went undrafted out of Kansas, but the Cowboys did have a mid-round grade on the son of former NFL lineman Deatrich Wise. The younger Wise has lined up at tackle and end in camp. In one-on-one drills, he stalled rushing inside against guard Xavier Su'a-Filo's power. But he showed versatility with a successful speed rush outside against offensive tackle Brandon Knight.
Christian Covington: The four-year veteran did not practice in the offseason due to a calf injury, but he has shown power rushing inside as a three-technique tackle. Covington did a lot of the dirty work inside for the Texans, freeing up stars J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. The Cowboys believe he can be a productive rotation player behind projected starters Woods and Maliek Collins.