DeMarcus Lawrence not into a numbers' game this season

DeMarcus Lawrence did not record a sack during an injury-shortened rookie regular season but had two in the playoffs. James D. Smith/AP Images

OXNARD, Calif. -- Dallas Cowboys coaches, like all coaches, love quick learners. DeMarcus Lawrence is a quick learner.

As a rookie last year, Lawrence was asked if he had a number of sacks in mind.

"My expectation is to go out and get 10 sacks, 10-plus sacks," Lawrence said.

It was a pretty brash statement from a second-round pick. DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys' all-time leader in sacks, had just eight as a rookie. Only 31 rookies recorded 10 or more sacks since sacks became an official stat in 1982. St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald led rookies last year with nine sacks.

Less than a week after his statement last summer, Lawrence suffered a broken foot that caused him to miss the first eight games of the season. He finished last year with as many regular-season sacks as you did on your couch last season: zero.

When Lawrence was asked if he had a number of sacks in mind this year, he demurred.

"No numbers," he said. "I know my goal is set high to be the best."

No numbers or he's just not saying them?

"I'm not saying them," Lawrence said. "I jinxed myself last year."

The Cowboys are not stuck on the fact that Lawrence did not have a sack in eight regular-season games. They would rather point to the playoffs where he had two in two games, clinching the wild-card win over the Detroit Lions with a takedown of quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The potential they saw in Lawrence at Boise State to make a draft-day trade, giving up their second- and third-round picks, with in intra-division rival, the Washington Redskins, shone through in the postseason.

"I think we got a good feel for what kind of player he could be once he came back last year," coach Jason Garrett said. "I think the strides he's made this offseason are significant. I think he's a bigger, stronger, more explosive athlete than he was when he came in here a year ago. And you see a determination and an intensity on the football field that you really like. He's a young guy. It's all in front of him. But we love his approach."

With the additions of Greg Hardy in free agency and Randy Gregory in the draft, the Cowboys moved Lawrence to left defensive end in the offseason. It was more about what Hardy has done in his career at right defensive end than what Lawrence can't do.

Lawrence likes the left side better because he feels he comes off the ball better with his right hand on the ground and can play with more power. His movement can also give him an edge on right tackles.

"I think it's an easier adjustment because I think a lot of times the guys you play over there (at right tackle) aren't as athletic," defensive tackle Rod Marinelli said. "The guys that get paid in this league are the left tackles. I'm not discrediting the right tackles but the matchups sometimes for a speed guy can be pretty good."

In one of the first compete periods of training camp, Lawrence was matched up on Doug Free. At the snap he gave a quick step and head-and-shoulder fake to the inside to draw Free in before exploding off the edge to clearly win the drill.

"Coming in last year I didn't have a good feel for the offensive line," Lawrence said. "I didn't know how big and strong they was going to be. Now I know. Now I'm just going in prepared, stayed in the weight room working my pad level, my fundamentals and getting better at all of that."

The additions of Hardy and Gregory and the returns of Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey, who led the Cowboys in sacks last year, might generate most of the interest in the Cowboys' pass rush but Lawrence can be the difference maker.

"I just feel like coming off last season I have a lot more to prove," Lawrence said. "They know I can do it now. So it's just a matter of doing it."