IRVING, Texas – From the time it became clear the Cowboys might need a new three-technique defensive tackle, Henry Melton seemed like a logical option.
The Chicago Bears Pro Bowler was a free agent, was coming off an ACL injury and he was from the Dallas area – it made sense. But perhaps Melton's most-discussed tie to the Cowboys was his relationship with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Melton enjoyed the best seasons of his career under Marinelli's watch in Chicago, posting a combined 13 sacks in 2011 and 2012 and earning his only trip to the Pro Bowl.
It's one thing to suppose the Dallas-area native would want to reunite with his old coach – it's another thing to hear it from the man himself.
"Once I reconnected with Rod – he did some good recruiting. It was a pretty easy decision," Melton said.
One need only look at the Cowboys' roster to see why Marinelli was so set on reuniting with his former star. Jason Hatcher signed a free agent deal of his own last week – a four-year deal worth $27 million. That move not only left the Cowboys without Hatchers' 11 sacks from 2013, it left them without a true three-technique defensive tackle.
In Marinelli's system, the three-technique is referred to by many as the motor that drives the defense – a crucial element of the pass rush. Melton's familiar with the role, and he said he's ready to take it on once again.
"I'm familiar with the system, I know what it demands and they want me to be the guy. I'm accepting the position," he said.
Who Melton will line up with is still a matter of some speculation. The Cowboys have now replaced one Pro Bowl defensive tackle with another, but there's still the absence of All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware to consider.
Dallas signed journeymen Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to free agent deals last week, and Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass are set to return from injury in 2014. Two of last season's starters, Nick Hayden and George Selvie, also return. But it remains to be seen how all of those pieces, including potential draft picks, will translate to a productive defensive line.
That didn't seem to faze Melton, however, who said he's eager to embrace the challenge – starting with a return to his Pro Bowl form from 2012. [embedded_ad]
"I think if I'm dominant and playing the way I know I can, and Rod gets me right and the defense is flying around, this team is really close to doing something special," Melton said.
If there was any doubt about Melton's excitement about the reunion, his conversation gives it away. The University of Texas standout mentioned Marinelli at nearly every turn, even allowing that he went to dinner with Marinelli on Monday night, the day before he and the Cowboys agreed to terms.
"He's tough on you, but the thing about Rod is he cares about you as a person," Melton said. "He wants to see you succeed, and you can sense that about him. I'm just happy to be here and work with him."
The expectation is Melton will be healthy and ready to go when the Cowboys report to training camp in Oxnard, Calif. Having Marinelli alongside to push him can only raise those expectations higher.
"It gives me great confidence," Melton said. "I know what the position demands, I know what the schemes are and I know Rod – how demanding he is. It's going to be fun."