IRVING, Texas – Three of the Cowboys' four starting defensive linemen last Sunday hadn't ever recorded an NFL sack.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's cycling in and out a lot of young linemen who've yet to prove anything, but he knows all the best pass rushers in the league had to start somewhere and he believes in his group.
"That's who we are, and that's what we have to do," Marinelli said. "All of a sudden, career sacks, a guy with career sacks starts somewhere. So let's start from here. Bruce Smith didn't have 200 to start with, but let's go. Believe in these guys, coach them, rotate them, and let's see where we are."
Many expected Henry Melton to be a starter Week 1 coming off ACL surgery. But after missing time in the preseason with a groin injury and recovering from the knee injury, Melton was used off the bench in favor of undrafted rookie Davon Coleman in the opener.
Melton played 26 snaps, and that number should continue to climb, particularly if he starts this week. Marinelli's ideal snap total for Melton is in the 38 to 40 range, but he's got to work up to that total.
"A guy like him, you don't want to wear him down because of his quickness. So I'm hoping around that," Marinelli said. "We'll see. If he's tired, I'll pull him and kind of see where he's at. The game dictates that. A longer drive, we may take him out. You get in some three and outs, hopefully, and he's getting a little bit of rest in between."
Melton's not the only lineman with an ideal range of snaps.
Marinelli doesn't put a specific number on exactly how many snaps each player will get before the game, but he has a range in mind for each of the defensive linemen. The defensive coordinator said he has someone chart every snap and gets a feel for how the game is going and how tired the player looks.
"Sometimes, guy's fresh, feels good and he's in a rhythm, you don't want to take a guy out of a rhythm," Marinelli said. "I feel better with that than, say, 'This many snaps.' You might have somebody get hot and really flying and he doesn't look real tired right now, so you keep him going." [embedded_ad]
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey played the most snaps of any lineman with 43. Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden and Coleman – the other three starters – each had 33 snaps. Marinelli said it'd be nice to get a lot of reps for eight different defensive linemen, but he has to have the confidence the second group of linemen will attack just as hard as the first.
"I always feel good about these guys because they work so hard," Marinelli said. "They really work, and I think any time you put that much work into a practice, you're going to get better and you're going to get better. By rotating these guys in the week, they're a little fresher during the week to have good practices."