OXNARD, Calif. -- Among the current Dallas Cowboys on the roster eligible to play Week 1 against the New York Giants, Orlando Scandrick has the most sacks with 9.5.
He is a cornerback.
Rolando McClain also has 9.5 sacks but will be suspended the first 10 games of the season. There is no guarantee he will be on the roster in any capacity, with him being placed on the reserve/did not report list.
He is a linebacker.
DeMarcus Lawrence led the Cowboys in sacks last season with eight after going without regular-season sack as a rookie in 2014. He had back surgery in the offseason and will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension. Randy Gregory, last year’s second-round pick, did not have a sack as a rookie, will miss at least the first four games of the season due to a suspension and is looking at a longer suspension. He is currently at a treatment facility, not at training camp.
The current defensive linemen on the Cowboys roster eligible to play Week 1 have 21.5 career sacks.
Michael Strahan had 22.5 sacks in 2001 to set the NFL record. Justin Houston had 22 sacks in 2014 for the Kansas City Chiefs. Jared Allen had 22 sacks in 2011 for the Minnesota Vikings. Mark Gastineau had 22 sacks in 1984 for the New York Jets.
There is no bigger question for the Cowboys than their defensive line. And they’re OK with it.
“It’s been that way a lot of times in my life,” defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. “But for me I’m not worried about what the outsiders say. I’m just worried about what we can do in that room and how I’m going to get my guys together, how we’re going to work under Coach [Rod] Marinell every day. As long as we’re working hard and doing what we can do, what he knows we can do, we should be all right. Just like a lot of people doubted our D-line two years ago and we proved them wrong. So we plan on working hard and trying to do that again.”
The Cowboys’ remedy, at present, is to rely on Marinelli, who is entering his 21st year as an NFL assistant coach. He's in his fourth year with the Cowboys and third year as their defensive coordinator.
“It’s a great environment for those young defensive linemen to develop,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I think we have healthy competition at the defensive line. I think that will bring out the best out in the guys. They go against really good offensive linemen every day so we will develop and grow. The culture will be right, the environment will be right for them to do that. Having said that, in a lot of cases there’s some guys out there who don’t have that much experience playing at this level. But my experience has been if they’re in the right environment, they’re the right kind of guy and they have some talent they will grow and they will grow quickly. We’re going to give them the chance to do that.”
The Cowboys knew of the suspensions of Lawrence and Gregory (at least the original four-game one in his case) before free agency and the draft, yet they chose to be passive. They signed Cedric Thornton to a four-year, $17 million deal in free agency, but he has just four career sacks. They could have chosen the top pass rushers available in the draft with the fourth overall pick but opted for a running back. They eventually selected Maliek Collins, a defensive tackle, in the third round, only to see him break his foot in the first organized team activity in May. They selected Charles Tapper in the fourth round, but how many fourth-round pass rushers make major contributions as rookies?
“I think if you ask anybody around the league ... GMs and head coaches, you want known commodities all over your football team, but a huge part of the NFL in 2016 is developing players,” Garrett said. “You have to have great coaches to do that and you have to pick them the right way, the right kind of guys who have some talent to develop. We have some guys on our football team who are among the best in the NFL. In other areas we have to rely on some younger players we are trying to develop. I think most teams, the best teams, are built that same way.”