IRVING, Texas – It doesn't get much more blue-collar in the NFL than suiting up a free agent who joined the team earlier that week.
Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said that's what the NFL's all about. Even with a newfound emphasis on protecting players, he said it's still a blue-collar game that's won by the men who want to work and fight for their opportunities.
That's never been more evident than in the past month, with the Cowboys bringing in new players every week on the defensive line and somehow finding a way to make it work, holding their last two opponents to 19 combined points. That has a lot to do with the approach of Marinelli and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"We see the positive side for every man, and they usually respond to that," Marinelli said.
They've responded tremendously. Jason Hatcher was the only starting defensive lineman last weekend in Philadelphia who was with the team before training camp, yet the four-man pressure was consistent and overwhelming for Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. Hatcher was again disruptive in the middle, notching his sixth sack of the season.
"Hatcher has done a fantastic job as a leader, and it starts with his play, with his performance and his approach each and every day," said head coach Jason Garrett. "He loves football, he's very passionate about it. He works very hard at it, both in practice and on Sundays. That's where it begins. That's line one of leadership, it's action."
Hatcher joked after the game that he's happy to be on a team of "no-names," but the leader of that group wasn't the only one in the face of Foles.
Barkley had to enter after George Selvie, who came to the team in training camp, and Jarius Wynn, who joined the Cowboys just days before the trip to Philadelphia, combined on a hit that sent Foles out of the game. Selvie finished with 1.5 sacks and Wynn had that half-sack.
Defensive lineman Caesar Rayford came to the Cowboys after the preseason at the beginning of September, and he was active, pressuring Barkley into his pick to safety Barry Church. Kyle Wilber made the first start of his career in place of the injured DeMarcus Ware and earned some praise from head coach Jason Garrett for playing hard throughout the most extended action he's had in his career.
"He's still learning his technique, trying to understand how to get away from guys as a rusher, and I think the more he does it in games, the better he's going to get at it," Garrett said. "He is showing up. He's playing with that relentless spirit."
The constant cycling in and out of lineman is continuing, with the signing of defensive tackle Marvin Austin on the Monday after allowing three points to the Eagles. He's the sixth defensive lineman currently on the 53-man roster who has joined the team since the start of training camp.
Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that losing Edgar Jones, a player who came to Dallas at the end of the preseason, would be a topic of concern?
That's what it has come to on a defensive line that's without Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer for the season and lost Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass before the season even began. So how are the Cowboys making it work?
"I've just got to say the obvious, I think, coaching," owner Jerry Jones said. "We were really getting coached up. Monte and all of them, Rod, all of them are really showing these guys, showing our players where to be, how to fundamentally play."
And their players would agree.
Hatcher has raved about how he can tell Marinelli cares for every player he puts on the field. He said he never wants to disappoint his defensive line coach and there's a reason Marinelli's garnered the respect he has in the league. Hatcher feels a similarly about his defensive coordinator.
"I'm pretty sure we'll do something special for him," Hatcher said of Kiffin. "As much hard work as this man puts in and his staff, they meet all the time. We do a lot of walkthroughs. We walk through plays over 100 times. It's just awesome to go out there and get a reward and play hard for a guy like that and to hold a team to three, just knowing how much work we put into this." [embedded_ad]
The Cowboys could get their star pass-rusher back this week after he missed the first game of his career with a thigh injury. Until Ware returns, though, they'll keep rolling out their blue-collar linemen coming off the street. After all, it seems to be working just fine when their playing for a defensive line coach that believes in their abilities.
"It's definitely sinking in and it's pretty easy when you have a coach always pushing you to be better," said defensive tackle Drake Nevis, who signed with the Cowboys before the Week 4 tilt against the Chargers. "He coached a lot of Hall of Fame guys, and he's going to demand that type of effort. Even if you're playing with that type of effort, he's still going to demand more."
The allure or prestige of a player doesn't temper expectations for Marinelli, who didn't seem surprised with how his group played Sunday. Instead, he answered like any typical blue-collar worker would.
"I thought it was good, solid work," Marinelli said.