IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys hope George Selvie's the example and not the outlier.
He's the player people point to most when referencing Rod Marinelli's contribution to the line play last year, and he's set the bar for many of the Cowboys' most recent signings who haven't hit their potential in previous stops.
Marinelli's ability to connect with his linemen and get the best out of them hasn't gone unnoticed. Every defensive lineman who worked with Marinelli last year raved about the coach's talents, as owner/general manager Jerry Jones recognized.
"I wouldn't want to dismiss the contribution he made last year," Jones said at the NFL Owners Meetings. "He's not only very accomplished as a coordinator, but he's certainly recognized by players as well as his peers as being one of the top interior line coaches there are."
The Cowboys lost potential Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware this offseason, along with another player in Jason Hatcher who's coming off an 11-sack season, while Anthony Spencer's out in free agency.
They signed Henry Melton, who notched seven sacks in 2011 and six in 2012 but is coming off a shortened year from an ACL injury. They signed Jeremy Mincey, who's got 20 sacks in 66 career games but has only one season with more than five sacks. They signed defensive tackle Terrell McClain, whose career-high in sacks came in 2011, when he had one.
Yet Jones went as far to say at the Owners Meetings that the Cowboys are set to have a better defensive line in 2014 than they had on the field in 2013.
Why? Two reasons - youth and Marinelli. But mostly the latter.
Marinelli helped Selvie, who'd never had more than 1.5 sacks in a season, register a career-high seven last year. He helped Hatcher, who'd never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season, register a career-high 11 last year. He helped Nick Hayden become a starter and he helped a plethora of players, including Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown, register at least a sack in minimal time with the team.
He'll now get the chance to mold more of the overall defense with his promotion from line coach to coordinator.
But we tend to forget about the 10 to 15 or so other defensive linemen who cycled in and out of Dallas without much to show. Marinelli's one of the best defensive line coaches in the league and some look to him to be a miracle worker, but he can only do so much. A lack of talent on the field is a lack of talent, and coaching can only go so far to mask inefficiencies.
The pro personnel department did well to bring in players last year who were former draft picks with high expectations that just never panned out. Marinelli has demonstrated he can help develop a player like Selvie into a productive starter. [embedded_ad]
Other times, though, they're a Marvin Austin, who was a former second-round pick available in free agency that played in one game with the Cowboys before they moved on. Or they're a Drake Nevis, a former third-round pick available in free agency who was productive in 11 games but was eventually cut after failing to register a sack.
For the Cowboys to truly have a better defensive line this year than they had last year, as Jones mentioned earlier this week, they'll need Mincey to repeat or surpass that 2011 eight-sack year rather than his other five seasons in the league. They'll need McClain to take a significant step forward, which many coaches believe is possible in this system. They'll need Melton to at least reach his 2011 production if not exceed that while coming off a major knee surgery. And they need this to happen with one offseason of work together.
"We're better today than the line we played with," Jones said, "And we have players who probably have a better chance of not having as much negative health issues as we did last season."
Jones' expectations haven't lowered with the new personnel. That puts the pressure on for Marinelli to work his magic.