(Editor's Note: This is the seventh of a 12-part series examining and analyzing the main position groups for the Cowboys as they prepare for training camp. Today's piece focuses on the pass rush – namely, the defensive ends.)
What's the Deal?We're about to find out what the Cowboys' collection of unsung pass rushers can amount to. The leading sack artist among this team's defensive ends, Anthony Spencer, is still recovering from surgery and likely won't be ready for training camp. That leaves newly-signed free agent Jeremy Mincey, with 20 career sacks, to lead a group of unknowns. Chief among those is rookie DeMarcus Lawrence, who the Cowboys drafted No. 34 overall after trading away a third round pick. The rookie joins a rotation currently staffed by Mincey and George Selvie, not to mention fellow unprovens like Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass. The hope is that Spencer, the lone Pro Bowler in the group, can recover enough to contribute in some fashion.
Still Need to Find Out:What exactly Crawford's role is on this defensive front. The third-year Boise State star is a jack of all trades, with potential as both a defensive end and a pass-rushing defensive tackle – depending on the situation. We haven't seen any of this ability manifest itself, mainly because Crawford was injured for all of 2013 and his offseason practices in 2014 were non-contact. The expectations are pretty high for Crawford, especially considering he has yet to register a career sack. The Cowboys need to figure out which spot – or spots – he can be most effective from, and let him loose.
Just last year, the Cowboys only carried four defensive ends on the final roster – but two of those four were perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware and 2012 Pro Bowler Spencer, who was expected to be healthy for the 2013 season. The Cowboys don't have nearly that kind of track record with this current group. They also have the stated intention of creating a rotation of multiple waves of linemen, rather than a set line of four. With those two things in mind, it seems reasonable to expect them to carry more defensive ends this time around – perhaps six, instead. Mincey, Selvie, Lawrence and Crawford all look like locks. That will create competition for the final few spots between the likes of Bass, Caesar Rayford, Ben Gardner and Martez Wilson.
Ready to Breakout?A case can be made for Crawford in this spot, but it's got to be Lawrence. The Cowboys traded away their No. 47 and No. 78 picks in this spring's draft to take Lawrence 34th overall. The reasoning was that Lawrence fit perfectly as a pass-rushing, right defense end, and the team saw him as a first-round talent. Obviously, one season isn't going to determine the course of Lawrence's career, but the Cowboys could use a breakout rookie campaign from one of their top talents if their pass rush is going to improve in 2014. [embedded_ad]
Battle to Watch:What we learned post-draft from new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was the plan to bring DeMarcus Lawrence along slowly as the right defensive end and let unrestricted free agent Jeremy Mincey start on that side ahead of Lawrence until he learned the ropes. When practices opened, it was Lawrence that was running with the first defense while Mincey was dealing with a small setback. *Click here for the full report*
Last Time Out:For a look back at how the defensive ends returning to the roster performed in 2013, click here.