To say that DeMarcus Lawrence is entering this season with confidence is kind of like saying Niagara Falls is damp or the Grand Canyon is a pothole. Coming off a breakout campaign which saw the second-round pick register 14.5 sacks and earn his first Pro Bowl nod, "Tank" has some pretty lofty expectations for 2018. For both himself and his team.
"Yeah, you appreciate it so much more after having a couple of tough years and it brings you to that place of why can't it be like this all the time? Why can't I have 15, 20 sacks every season?" Lawrence said. "I see how good I can be now, so let's do it all the time.
"I want to leave behind a legacy as one of the game's all-time great pass rushers. I know it's hard work. That's why I can never stop working on my craft. I watch film, they watch film. So now they are saying I have a signature move and are working to stop that move. That means I have to work on other things to compensate that signature move so I can still get to the quarterback. That's what this offseason was all about, developing new moves so that no one knows what I'm going to do.
"Going through the trials and tribulations last year brought us closer as a team. Now we're trying to establish our identity and find this team that can go 19-0 and win the Super Bowl. That's our goal."
This was an entirely different kind of offseason for Lawrence. There was no back surgery like in 2016 and 2017, no extensive rehab, no finishing the previous year in such agonizing pain that not even the strongest medication was helpful. Instead, there were workouts, and more workouts, and visits to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's office to talk schemes and technique. And more workouts.
Some mornings, his fellow defensive linemen joined him; on other occasions he was alone. Days off were rare.
Make no mistake, success makes some athletes complacent, while others find it intoxicating. The truly great ones become obsessed with nothing but more success, willing to make the sacrifices necessary.
"I kept telling the other defensive linemen every workout all offseason, every day, we don't have anything else to do," Lawrence said. "It's rather you go home and sit on the couch and play your game, but how long will it be your home if you can't pay your bills? You can go home and play with your kids, but then you can't feed your kids because you aren't out here with your job. We have nothing else to do so let's go ball. Let's attack this thing, have fun. It's a job, true enough, but it's one of the best jobs in the world.
"Like I told my girl when we first got together, 'Football is my first love. You have to come second to this game, and I know that's hard.' That's why she's the love of my life. I had to sit down and explain that to her. She caught up really quick that I have to be here, spend time with the guys, have that camaraderie we need, the brotherhood, because if I look at that guy next to me he has to know what I'm thinking before we make the moves. So all that time I invest in this team, that takes away from the time I can invest in the family."
Lawrence and his fiancée, Sasha Almeida, have a 4-year-old son, Damari, and want to have more children. One of the highlights of the Amazon series All or Nothing was the family's trip to Chuck E. Cheese with Tank refusing to leave until they hung out with the pizza restaurant's mascot, Chuck E. the mouse. In fact, few if any of the Cowboys players came across as more likeable than Lawrence in the show.
"I watched the first three or four, then was kind of in and out after that," Lawrence said. "They made me out to look pretty good, and I thank them for that. It's hard to show a lot of stuff on camera that goes on during an NFL season, but they showed a nice side of me. Don't make any mistake, though. I still have my dog in me. Don't get that twisted."
There were a bunch of holdouts this preseason, including a couple of the game's premier pass rushers in Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, as well as Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who like Lawrence was franchise tagged back in March. However, Tank, who will earn $17.143 million this season, didn't even consider causing an uproar, preferring to let his play on the field speak for itself. And while he certainly wants a long-term contract, and more than anything wants to stay with the Cowboys, he understands the business side of it, understands why the front office wanted to see another healthy Pro Bowl-caliber season before inking him for five or six years.
"That's really just my character and $17 million, that's not bad for the year," Lawrence said. "Why should I trip and dwell on the moment when I can be out here getting better? And maybe I make more next year. My focus is, look, I know they have the money to pay me, but all I can control is to make sure there's no doubt in the world they have to pay me. And you do that with your play, not with what I say. I can sit here, yell and scream and swear, and not report to camp, but what does that solve? Then I show up late, out of shape, and finish with five sacks and I'm not making any money. That's not solving any problem or helping this team win."
And while he was not named a team captain earlier this week, Lawrence has taken on a leadership role, really going back to last season. Just being around the locker room and practice field, it's obvious teammates gravitate toward him. Second-year defensive end Taco Charlton spent so much time with him this offseason working out that some took to calling him Lawrence's shadow.
"It's hard coming into the league as a young guy and thinking, I'm better than this guy. Why should I be listening to him?" Lawrence said. "Every time you come out you have to be humble. Tyron [Smith] was a mentor for me, Tyrone [Crawford], too, and now I am trying to pass it on to Taco and Randy Gregory, all those guys. That's the natural progression of the game. Learn what you can from those who came before you and pass that along to those who come after.
"I am not in fear of anyone taking my position, I'm in fear of losing. I'd rather teach a teammate everything so we can win. There are no secrets with me. I'm all in. We need this whole defensive front to be dominating. Let's have a few guys with 14 sacks this year."