OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys entered training camp with well-documented questions about their defensive line depth.
Lately, they've been making do with even less.
Five defensive linemen have missed multiple practices – Benson Mayowa (knee; Active PUP list), Maliek Collins (foot; Active/PUP list), Tyrone Crawford (back), Terrell McClain (toe) and Cedric Thornton (sick) – and six if you count Randy Gregory's place on the Reserve/Did Not Report list. DeMarcus Lawrence (rest) and Ryan Russell (knee) did not participate in Sunday's Blue/White Scrimmage.
Head coach Jason Garrett sees a silver lining.
"We've had a lot of guys who are out, so a lot of younger guys and some backup players have gotten a lot of work and that's a really good thing for our team," he said. "It provides an opportunity for them to show what they can do. It provides an opportunity for us to see what they can do. That's good. We'll keep creating competition all throughout that group."
Help appears on the way as the Cowboys get set for their second full week of camp. Crawford and McClain are getting close to returning, and Mayowa and Collins – two acquisitions via free agency and the draft, respectively – are making progress from summer surgeries.
Early in camp, though, a thin line has meant questions will persist about the state of the team's pass rush. Last year the Cowboys had 31 sacks, only three more than 2014. Lawrence, the 2015 sack leader with eight, will miss the first four games of the regular season due to NFL suspension. No player on the roster has ever reached double digits.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli acknowledges it's one of the most inexperienced groups he has inherited, but he does see talent that can be molded. David Irving, a second-year defensive end, has had a productive start to camp. Fourth-round pick Charles Tapper has potential as an edge rusher.
"Got some young good players to work with," Marinelli said. "Now, that being said, it's about how hard we want to play, how physical we have to be down in and down out. We've got to have an attitude more than anything. You win games with who wants it more. It's our job as coaches to instill that part of the game."