IRVING, Texas –Rod Marinelli cares less about past consistency than he does about potential.
The defensive line coach turned defensive coordinator for the Cowboys knows most of his defensive linemen aren't household names, but he believes they can each reach their peak in Dallas.
"Every guy, I'm going to coach as hard as I can to be the best pass rusher he can be, and if you can do that, the numbers will start falling for you," Marinelli said.
The cast of cast-offs currently on the Cowboys' defensive line includes a host of players with one or two splash years either followed or preceded by mediocrity.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey recorded five sacks in 2010 and eight in 2011, but no more than three in a season before or after those years. Defensive end George Selvie broke out for seven sacks last year in Dallas, but he never had more than 1.5 sacks in a season prior to that.
Henry Melton, the highly-touted defensive tackle signing, had seven sacks in 2011 and six in 2012 but missed the majority of the 2013 season with an ACL injury. Jeremy McClain has one career sack and Tyrone Crawford has no sacks yet.
Anthony Spencer, the only played on the team with at least 10 sacks in a season, recorded 11 in 2012 but may miss the beginning of this season with a knee injury he sustained that kept him out the majority of the 2013 season. He also never had more than six sacks in a season prior to that outburst.
Marinelli doesn't seem to care about that lack of consistency, though. He just sees what each player can become. He said he's not sure if he's looking for one or two guys to emerge with 10 sacks or for a bunch of players to get five or six sacks, but he does believe if he teaches the linemen the fundamentals of his system and the pace and tempo he wants to play at, those players should be able to reach their potential. [embedded_ad]
"Right now, hopefully the strength is the unit," Marinelli said. "A bunch of guys, Mincey's come in, I know what George is about, Henry, Crawford coming in, and we've got some young guys coming in. So the strength has got to be the unit. Hopefully, we'll have eight guys we feel good about and each guy, nobody's selfish, and you play the game as hard as you can play it and play it as well as you can play it."
In addition, the Cowboys also added more unproven players with high ceilings on the defensive line in second-round pick Demarcus Lawrence and seventh-rounders Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop. There are currently 15 defensive linemen on the roster, including the undrafted guys.
Melton knows what it's like to break out under the guidance of Marinelli from their time together in Chicago, and he believes other relatively unknown Cowboys linemen can do the same.
"You know, it's a lot of athletic guys we have," Melton said. "There's not a lot of big names on it, but I've told them before that it's about making a name for yourself. No one knew who I was when I first started, so it's all about making a name for yourself and looking around this room, there's a lot of guys that are going to."
It's a tall task to assume Mincey can return to his eight-sack form, Crawford can break out as many predict, Selvie can keep up his consistency, Spencer and Melton can return to health and get back to form and a scheme change for McClain can put him in position to be a new player entirely, but Marinelli likes the potential of all his linemen.
"I like them," Marinelli said. "Mince has had a couple real good years in his belt, George had a good year, Henry's done it. Now we've just got to get guys to have career years."