FRISCO, Texas – When Taco Charlton watches film of DeMarcus Lawrence, he sees a little of himself.
Not as much D-Law, 2017 Pro Bowler – yet – as DeMarcus Lawrence, 2014 rookie.
Charlton, last year's first-round pick, aspires to become an elite player, too. But he has also studied Lawrence's up-and-down first season in Dallas four years ago.
That's where the younger defensive end finds inspiration.
"He had the same climb, the same challenges," Charlton said. "He's always said, 'Just trust the process.'"
Lawrence broke a bone in his foot during that 2014 training camp and missed half the season, returning for seven games and posting a critical sack in the Cowboys' divisional-round win over Detroit.
Back injuries and a four-game suspension in 2016 limited Lawrence's production over the following two years. But in 2017 he broke through with 14.5 sacks, tied for second in the NFL and the fourth-highest total in Cowboys history.
"He was a guy his rookie season, he had his struggles," Charlton said after OTA practice Wednesday. "Going to the second year he started to explode, and then (his) third year had some struggles.
"But last year, just seeing what he could do after a couple years in the books and watching film of how he was when he was younger compared to now, I see the strides you make as you keep getting more and more comfortable, learn more things."
Charlton is looking for a similar jump in his second season.
The 23-year-old played only 401 of a possible 1,048 defensive snaps last year, working primarily behind Lawrence at left defensive end. His playing time increased when the Cowboys cut veteran Damontre' Moore in October, and he recorded all three of his sacks in the final nine games.
"He was playing behind me so it wasn't like he could get as many reps as he needed," Lawrence said. "But this year I feel like he's going to come along and take y'all by storm."
Indeed, the Cowboys believe Charlton has made progress with his strength, technique and quickness off the snap. And Lawrence and veteran defensive end Tyrone Crawford have become mentors for the second-year pass rusher.
Charlton said he and Lawrence worked off to the side on pass rush moves in practice during his rookie season.
"We're so close that he would teach me everything he knew and I could see what I could apply," he said.
That instruction continues this spring, and Charlton is currently getting extra practice reps while the Cowboys take a deliberate approach with Lawrence's offseason workload.
Charlton's development will only benefit Lawrence this season with opponents likely to give the Pro Bowler their full blocking attention.
"The best way to combat that is you have other people who threaten the opposing offense," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "If you have good rushers across the board, guys who can win – if he's getting a lot of attention, maybe they can win their one-on-ones and affect the game that way."
Charlton became a first-round prospect with a strong senior season at Michigan – his only year as a starter for the Wolverines. With more time, he expects to get better and better.
"My first year, the beginning wasn't as good as I wanted to go," he said. "But at the end I started hitting my stride and it started all to come together.
"The season had to end, which was bad for me because I started to really get in my groove. But now I've got Year 2. Now I can build on it."