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Cowboys seeing benefit of better pass rush already

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey remembers a conversation with cornerback Brandon Carr during Saturday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings that told him things will be different with the pass rush in 2015.

“He was telling me, ‘If I knew you guys were going to get there that fast, I would’ve played off,’” Mincey said.

Carr was talking about a 39-yard catch he gave up to Mike Wallace in the first quarter on the Vikings’ second drive of the game. He was in press coverage against Wallace and while in good position, Teddy Bridgewater’s throw was perfect. Had Carr played off the line of scrimmage, he might have been in better position.

There is no better friend to a cornerback than a pass rush. While the stinging image of the Cowboys’ 2014 season might be the reversal of Dez Bryant’s fourth-quarter catch against the Green Bay Packers, the real lesson from that game was the defense’s inability to get after an injured Aaron Rodgers.

To come up with some answers, the Cowboys hedged a bet on Greg Hardy, the best pass-rusher available in free agency. They took Randy Gregory, a first-round talent, in the second round. They hoped the DeMarcus Lawrence in the playoffs would be the player they would get in his second season.

“Yeah, we see it,” Carr said of the improved pass rush. “The guys have the will to get off the ball, man. They want to get to that quarterback. Coach [Rod] Marinelli and his defensive line staff are doing a great job getting those guys motivated each and every day to be their best at all times. The rush and coverage go hand in hand. We need the guys up front to get after the quarterback. On the back end, we’ve got to hold our own as well.”

While the Cowboys were able to take the ball way (18 interceptions, 13 fumbles), they were not able to generate much of a pass rush. They had just 28 sacks on the season, led by Mincey’s six. It was the fewest by a team leader since Greg Ellis had six in 2001. That team went 5-11.

The Cowboys did not attempt to keep Henry Melton, their second-leading sacker with five, but they have added more to their mix.

“Hell yeah and you can quote that,” Mincey said. “Hell yeah. It’s great to see a lot of guys that can get to the quarterback. It surely makes my job easier. I can tell you that much.”

Marinelli likes to rotate his defensive linemen to keep them fresh. In one series against the Vikings, he used eight different defensive linemen. In three preseason games, the Cowboys have eight sacks. They had five in the preseason last year.

At full strength, the Cowboys will use Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Hardy and Gregory in pass-rushing situations. They can add Mincey and Jack Crawford at any spot along the line depending on matchups

Gregory has three sacks in three preseason games and has been difficult to block since the first day of training camp.

“He can play,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “Athletic, hard-nosed, practices hard every day. He’s been a great addition for us.”

Hardy has yet to make a decision on whether to pursue legal action in seeking a further reduction of his suspension. As of now, he will miss the first four games, but his suspension starts after the final cuts this weekend.

“We’ll still find different matchups,” Mincey said. “You still have Crawford in there who’s an animal. Then you got D-Law, who can rush. I can rush. Jack Crawford’s a good rusher. Then you got Randy; get him to stretch those tackles out, shoot those gaps and make some plays.”

In 2011, the Cowboys started the rebuilding of their offensive line by taking Tyron Smith in the first round. They have since added Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the first round and have one of the best offensive lines in football.

The Cowboys started their defensive line rebuild after the 2013 season when they cut DeMarcus Ware and didn’t attempt to keep Jason Hatcher. In the last two years they have used second-round picks on Lawrence and Gregory. Hardy might be more than just a one-year fix.

More pieces will be needed for the future, but the present looks better.

“We’re starting with a better than normal talent base in both those fronts,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “And I think we’ve got the coaching that will get it out of them.”