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Jim Tomsula & The Cowboys' DL Rotation


FRISCO, Texas – It's a hard question to ask right now, which made Jim Tomsula's answer even better.

Tasked with managing the Cowboys' pass rushers, how does the longtime NFL defensive line coach intend to rotate his players? The answer to that question will depend on who's in his huddle next fall.

"What's the drop off? That's my point. That's the question I'm always asking myself," Tomsula said last week. "The goal is to have as many guys as you can playing and go. But if there's a drop off, then we've got problems."

It's too early to call it a problem, but it'll be awfully interesting to see what that dropoff looks like in 2020. The Cowboys have a top-tier pass rusher under contract in DeMarcus Lawrence, but there aren't a lot of proven commodities alongside him.

Team sack leader Robert Quinn is heading for free agency, as his veteran three-technique Maliek Collins. Tyrone Crawford is rehabbing from hip injuries that cut his season short in September, while other contributors like Antwaun Woods and Kerry Hyder are also out of contract.

The Cowboys will undoubtedly add talent in free agency and the draft, but it's fair to wonder whether Tomsula will be able to deploy it the way he wants to.

"If everybody can play, everybody will play," he said. "But when you look out there and it looks different … That crew in San Francisco, the first couple years there was no rotation. I told them 'If you tap your helmet, I'm turning my head.'"

That's a far cry from what became customary in Dallas under Rod Marinelli. Lawrence and Quinn played 65% and 68% of the defensive snaps, respectively, ceding the field to backups in key situations.

That's not to say Tomsula wouldn't follow suit. Having studied snap counts over previous offseasons, he said many of the NFL's most effective defenses employ a steady rotation.

"We want to be really good in December, too," he said. "So what you do Week 1, 2 and 3 has an effect. So if we can do that, we'd like to be our freshest at the end."

It's all going to depend on what he has to work with. But, much like the rest of this coaching staff, the early indication is that he'll tailor his tendencies to that personnel.