FRISCO, Texas – Rod Marinelli wants to be perfectly clear when he says that not all defensive tackles are created equal.
To hear it from the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, even the term “three-technique” – used for smaller, disruptive, pass rushing tackles – isn’t specific enough.
“There are a lot of three-techniques, not a lot of under tackles,” Marinelli said on Saturday.
That term should sound familiar for those that have followed Marinelli’s tenure with the Cowboys. The veteran coach has long preached about the value of the under tackle, who typically lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard and – if he’s good at his job – dictates the game by generating pressure and collapsing the pocket.
“It’s that motor and speed … a guy that can take over a game with his presence,” he said.
All of this helps to underscore why the Cowboys were do determined to draft Trysten Hill with the 58th overall pick in last month’s draft. To paraphrase Marinelli, there were a lot of three-technique defensive tackles in this year’s draft class, but Hill was one of just a handful of under tackles.
“I’m not naming names, but I felt there were only maybe three. He’s one of them,” he said.
Hill is a mere two walkthroughs into his Cowboy career, and it’ll be months before he dons the full uniform and proves himself in pads. But Marinelli is optimistic the rookie can develop into his first true under tackle since 2013, when Jason Hatcher racked up 11 sacks from the position.
“He had 11 sacks inside, where you can kind of control a game,” Marinelli said. “Now you’re really helping your ends. Aaron Donald is that type of guy in this league.”
To be clear, Marinelli wasn’t ready to compare Hill to a top-tier talent like Donald. As a matter of fact, it was interesting to hear him list off different under tackles, noting that there’s no set mold for the position.
During his lengthy NFL career, Marinelli has seen production at the position from all sizes – from undersized players like Booger McFarland and John Randle, to larger talents like Warren Sapp, Tommie Harris and Hatcher.
He said that, more than anything else, the position is about quick twitch athleticism – not to mention relentless effort.
“There’s a certain motor you’re looking for on tape, the guys that really play hard,” he said. “You can’t duck here, you can’t hide. If you’re not hustling, there’s a big light on you. So we’ve got to have guys that can’t live without it.”
The Cowboys have been looking for that player ever since Hatcher departed. They’ve tried it with Tyrone Crawford, Henry Melton, Maliek Collins and others. The results haven’t necessarily been bad, but there’s certainly room for improvement.
Everything they’ve said since the draft suggests Hill is that guy. From here on out, Marinelli said it’s his job to prove it.
“He’s got the traits of an under tackle,” he said. “Now, the next step is he’s got to go do it.”