IRVING, Texas – What a difference a week can make, even in a loss.
Going into the 49ers game last week, the Cowboys' defensive line was one of the more questioned units on the team and was a position that seemed to be the most vulnerable heading into the opener.
And while their performance was far from flawless, the optimism is much higher now for the Cowboys' D-line as it prepares for Sunday's game in Tennessee.
If nothing else, the position is expected to be even healthier with the likely return of defensive tackle Terrell McClain, who practiced last week with a high-ankle sprain but was a late-game scratch so he could get another week of health.
"I'm so ready to get out there," McClain said Tuesday. "I was ready last week, but I'm looking forward to it. It's been a long time for me."
McClain said he expects to get similar treatment as Henry Melton, who played last week despite missing all of the preseason. However, Melton didn't start and played sparingly, mostly on passing downs.
"We'll mix it up and see how I react," said McClain, a free-agent signing from Houston this offseason. "It doesn't matter, I just want to play. If I get five reps, I get five reps. If I get 20 reps, I'll get 20 reps."
Look for Melton to return to the starting lineup at the three-technique next to starter Nick Hayden, while McClain rotates into the mix. The Cowboys had both rookies Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop active for the game. In fact, Coleman was just the fourth defensive tackle in Cowboys history to start a season opener. But it's likely the Cowboys will deactivate either Coleman or Bishop if McClain is indeed active.
George Selvie, who played alongside McClain in college at South Florida, is excited to get another veteran teammate back on the field.
"He's another body, he's a great player. I played with him in college, so I know what he can do," Selvie said. "He's going to really help our defensive line. He can get penetration, get upfield, make some plays. That's what you need. You need some disruption. I think he can bring that to us."
As for Selvie, who has been nursing a shoulder injury, the defensive end said he can't worry about the pain because it's expected. [embedded_ad]
"I'm sore in my other shoulder. Just playing football. You've got to hit," said Selvie, who expects Tennessee to run the ball early and often. "I like playing against the run. (If) you stop the run, you get to go against the pass. They're going to challenge us. I know they did pretty well in the game. I haven't watched all the film (yet), so I've got to watch the film and see what they did and try to stop that."
The key will be to build off of Sunday's loss to the 49ers, who ran the ball 25 times despite leading the entire game. The Cowboys limited San Francisco to just 94 yards and a 3.8 average per carry, but defensive end Jermey Mincey said there needs to be improvement.
"If we had stuck to staying fundamentally sound, we would have done a lot better," said Mincey. "We could have had a lot more takeaways and given our team more of a chance. It's a learning curve, we're going to get better from here on out – keep building off of things we've been good at and good things are coming in the near future."
Still, Mincey was one of the more active defensive players in the game and said the team's pressure on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is something to build from.
"We had a lot of guys rushing fundamentally," Mincey said. "There were young guys stepping in and doing good things. It's just one of those games you've got to continue to build off of, and I think we've got a chance to do something. It's bad record-wise, but it's good learning from what you lack and getting better at it."