IRVING, Texas -- Like any coach, Rod Marinelli likes options.
In 2013, his first year with the Dallas Cowboys (as the defensive line coach), Marinelli's options were mostly street free agents. Some players signed on a Tuesday and played on a Sunday. He made it work with guys like George Selvie and Jarius Wynn.
Last year, as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, Marinelli's options were mostly guys attempting to restart their careers either from injury or downward trends. He made it work with guys like Jeremy Mincey, Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer.
As he begins his second year as Dallas' defensive coordinator, Marinelli's options have a different look. The team added the best pass-rusher in free agency, Greg Hardy, and added Randy Gregory, considered by many to be the best pass-rusher in the draft.
"We've got more talent, movement, all those things," Marinelli said. "Now, that's got to be worked into production. We've got to go produce with it and that takes a long time, a lot of training. The one thing all these guys have is a real love and care about being a ballplayer to work at it. That's our job. Right now it's conditioning, strength, and tying all that together with technique down in and down out.
"We had a bunch of men last year who did that, really played hard. And that is not something you can come to a conclusion and say, 'Oh, we have that.' You never have that. Ever. So we start again with the basics of the system."
The Cowboys have lauded the work they have seen from Hardy, even if his social media use has rankled them at times. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he likes Hardy's "zest" and added, "it's contagious."
Defensive teammates have noticed, as well.
"I coach him hard and he reacts hard," Marinelli said. "And he plays hard every snap out there. That's how I coach him. I want him to get better every day. Every day we walk off this field, he's better."
From Marinelli's point of view, the talent upgrade means nothing if a player doesn't want to work. Players won't become better if they want to coast.
"We've got a lot of guys back from last year," Marinelli said. "Now we lost some real good men too up front, but the men that are back -- from Jack Crawford and Mince, some real tough guys, Nick Hayden and Terrell McClain -- they were a big part of this thing in terms of developing a toughness and the effort of that group. As we bring more men in and we get some young guys from last year with a chance to display their skill, now it's still about heart."
Two years ago Jones thought the strength of the defense would be the defensive line. But DeMarcus Ware missed the first three games of his career and was compromised because of injury. Spencer played in just one game because of a knee injury. Jay Ratliff did not play at all (and he was cut during the season).
The Cowboys didn't have options.
Now Jones sees options and is once again seeing the line as a strength.
"When I look at what we got out of Tyrone Crawford last year on the interior, when I look at how Terrell McClain came along -- when I look at the interior, then I actually think that with the personnel we've got competing with them and behind them, I think we got real good inside push or rush that exceeds last year," Jones said. "I look to the outside and I see the numbers we've got. I see the potential to have a rotation. I see the quality or the skill of those pass-rushers out there and will say without hesitation, we're dramatically better on the outside. Our coach will tell you that is to be seen. We've got to have the work that goes along with it.
"One of the things I like about the players that we're counting on is that all of them are exceptional effort guys, in practice and on the field. When I look at their unique skills as well as effort guys, overachiever types out there, every one of them, then we really have helped our pass rush."