SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It might not be fair, but the expectations are going to rise for Randy Gregory with each quarterback he drops.
They're just preseason games – and they were preseason losses, at that. But Gregory is leading the way among an impressive young pass rush with two sacks in his first two career games.
"It's what they brought me in for, I think," Gregory joked after the game. "Obviously, I want to be the best overall player I can be – well-rounded and working on the other aspects of my game. But for the most part I think I've done a good job with what they've asked me to do."
They've asked him to get to the quarterback, and he is certainly doing it. Gregory estimated he played about 20 snaps in Sunday night's loss to the 49ers, and he came away with two tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss—standing out for the second-straight preseason game.
"I thought I've done a good job of that so far, but I'm never satisfied with my play. I'll look back on film and see some things I've got to work on," Gregory said. "That's the main thing about getting better as a player – going back on film and breaking down your game, breaking down what the left tackle did, what the guard did, things like that and getting better from there."
It wasn't just the second-round pick who excelled. With the exception of Greg Hardy, the majority of the Cowboys' experienced pass rushers were either limited or didn't play at all. That paved the way for the youngsters to play – and deliver.
Davon Coleman led all defensive linemen with four tackles, while his second-year partner at defensive tackle, Ken Bishop, added another two. The duo deserves plenty of credit for Gregory's sack, as they blew up the pocket from the snap.
"Just processing each snap, I would say – focusing on that snap," said Coleman of his progress. "I'm more comfortable with the scheme, I really don't think as much – it's really just reaction. I can move faster without worrying about the call as much. That's definitely helping me."
Behind Coleman, rookie Ryan Russell enjoyed a nice night – mostly from the defensive tackle spot. The fifth-round pick finished his night with three tackles, a tackle for loss and an all-important sack, giving credence to his two-position flexibility.
Perhaps the feel-good moment of the night came in the second half, when Ben Gardner joined the party. It's been a long road for the seventh-round draft pick, who missed most of his senior season at Stanford with a shoulder injury – then spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
That helps explain the reaction on the sideline when Gardner broke free from his left end spot and sacked 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert for a loss of five.
"As a defensive lineman there's nothing like the feeling of coming up with a sack," Gardner said. "That was a fun rush, and I was hoping to get another one, but they had a pretty good lead on us and they were just kind of running the ball in the second half."
To a man, the young pass rushers harped on the need for improvement. The Cowboys lost the game, after all, and they gave up 155 rushing yards in the process.
But for an organization that put such an emphasis on improving the pass rush, the early returns have to be encouraging.
"Everyone is doing a good job, everyone is working hard and getting better," Gregory said. "Bishop is working hard and getting better every day, Ryan Russell is coming along, Efe is coming along. I'm proud of the guys and couldn't ask for a better group."