IRVING, Texas – An excess of injuries that ravaged the defense didn't spare a veteran group of Dallas defensive linemen.
Though defensive line coach Brian Baker would have preferred to have taken more time to develop his younger linemen, the rash of injuries forced rookie Tyrone Crawford into the rotation, allowing him to showcase his skills and get more experience for next season.
"Ty kind of started as a guy where the whole thing was happening 100 miles an hour for him," Baker said. "He ended up as a guy where things slowed down enough where he was able to play really physically, being productive, understanding blocking schemes, reacting to the ball, being a real live NFL lineman. His maturation process, I think, was right along the lines of what we'd hoped, and probably exceeded my expectations."
The Cowboys had no choice but to play the third-round pick after losing Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent and Kenyon Coleman. Baker said he'd never before in his career experienced the kind of losses the Cowboys' defense and defensive line sustained this season.
Baker made do with what was available, and in the process he may have found something in Crawford, who finished with 20 combined tackles on the season. It took Crawford most of the season to look comfortable with the speed of the game, but he finished with at least two combined tackles in limited time in five of his final seven games.
"I expect for him to do kind of what he did at the end, probably to a larger scale," Baker said. "I think he ended up playing somewhere in the 20-something snaps a game toward the latter part of the season. Certainly, he'll be a bigger part (next year)."
Baker looks at the experience Crawford gained as a silver lining to losing all the starters. He saw the areas Crawford performed well in, like stopping the run, and what he needed to focus more attention to in the offseason.
"I look forward to him increasing his role, hopefully, as a pass rusher," Baker said. "I think that's where he needs to kind of excel a little bit, because he actually exceeded my expectations from my standpoint as a run defender."
Crawford might not be the only rookie defensive lineman getting a look next season if Ben Bass can stay healthy. Bass was activated from the practice squad prior to the Week 11 matchup against the Browns, but he only suited up in two games before hurting his ankle.
"We got just a taste, he got just a taste, and I'm excited about his future," Baker said.