Even Without Defined Position, Cowboys Counting on Crawford


IRVING, Texas – Any media outlet, magazine or preseason publication discussing the Cowboys' offseason moves on the defensive line will most certainly start with the obvious.

DeMarcus Ware, out. Jason Hatcher, out.

Henry Melton, in. Terrell McClain and Jermey Mincey, both in as well.

On paper, that doesn't look like a fair trade, and how could it? Ware is the Cowboys' all-time sack leader with 117 and made seven Pro Bowls. Hatcher is coming off a career season, and the best any Cowboys' defensive tackle has enjoyed in 31 years.

But when the team made the decision to overhaul the line, it had another player in mind who might be able to help. A player who not only missed every game last year, but only participated in half of one training camp practice.

Still, the Cowboys have high hopes for Tyrone Crawford, who is coming off a torn Achilles injury he sustained just a few drills into the first practice in Oxnard, Calif., last July.

The Cowboys know a thing or two about rehabbing Achilles injuries. Last year, Barry Church returned from a similar issue and enjoyed the best season of his career, leading the team with 147 tackles in 2013.

Head coach Jason Garrett said Crawford's rehab has been on schedule, and he should be ready for the start of the offseason conditioning program later this month.

"Yes he has been doing everything he needs to do coming out of his rehab," Garrett said. "We're excited to get him back on April 21."

Now, where exactly will Crawford play? That's a question for which Garrett didn't have an answer last week. And that's actually a good thing.

"He has really good versatility," Garrett said of Crawford, a third-round pick (81st overall) of the Cowboys' in 2012. "We are going to look at the landscape of our defensive line and see where he fits in. We really think he can play all four spots. We will use him in a couple of different spots certainly."

Now, Crawford's position isn't something the Cowboys will wait too long to figure out. Part of the offseason conditioning program is to get the player's body ready for the season. Strength coach Mike Woicik likely needs to know whether Crawford needs to bulk up or tone down for this upcoming campaign.

"We want to get him into a role, into a position where he is most comfortable and get his body right," Garrett said. "He will probably be a bigger guy and weigh a little more if he plays inside. He will be a lighter guy if he plays outside. Even if he plays outside we will probably use him inside in certain situations. We will make that determination here relatively soon. We have talked about this as a staff and with him a little bit.

[embedded_ad] "And depending who else we have in that landscape we will probably pick a lane with him and see where we want to start with him and see how he adjusts to it."

Wherever Crawford ends up, he's one of the reasons why owner/GM Jerry Jones is so high on the defensive line, a unit he said will indeed be improved from last year, despite the Ware and Hatcher departures.

Some of the positivity stems from Melton, who replaces Hatcher in the 3-technique spot. And some of that is the depth the Cowboys are getting with Mincey, McClain and a draft pick or two. Jones said the Cowboys will "definitely" draft at least one defensive linemen next month. Then again, with 11 picks in his pocket, Jones and the Cowboys could draft two or three. 

But this team is extremely high on Crawford, who played in all 16 games in 2012, registering just 33 tackles and five quarterback pressures in a rotation.

Then again, all of Jones' excitement for the defensive line is a result of his faith in Rod Marinelli, the defensive line coach who now replaces Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator.

"I think we're fortunate to have Rod Marinelli," Jones said. "We're fortunate to have the experience on defense we've (added). And we're fortunate that we've got a chance to draft some players that will help us immediately. We've got some help coming on our own roster, Crawford specifically, who can come in and help us this year."


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