August 12, 2012

Rookie Tyrone Crawford exceeding expectations at Dallas Cowboys camp

Rookie Tyrone Crawford is making himself heard.

OXNARD, Calif. -- Somebody asked Tyrone Crawford to name the best rookie singer in training camp.


If somebody asked for the best rookie pass rusher in camp, the same answer might come back.

"We may have hit big on him," executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

Crawford, a defensive end from Boise State, was the Cowboys' third-round pick in April, the first of the selections made in the shadow of the splashy trade up to get cornerback Morris Claiborne.

But while Claiborne misses time with a knee injury, Crawford has shaken off a calf injury to become one of the most intriguing players in camp through the first week and a half.

His straight-ahead rush has bowled over the likes of left tackle Tyron Smith in individual drills. In the Blue-White scrimmage last weekend, he consistently overpowered guard Ronald Leary and pushed the pocket back.

"Thought it was really great. Thought it was really great," coach Jason Garrett said when asked about Crawford's pass rush in the scrimmage, the closest work to live action the Cowboys have had before Monday night's preseason opener at Oakland. "Everything he does, he does it with kind of a relentless feel.... He's a pretty big kid. Maybe bigger than you think. Maybe more athletic than you think. When you have that relentless nature up front, you just keep coming. You're going to have some success."

The training-camp success hasn't meant a starting spot yet. It just means he's gotten the coaches' attention.

"As a rookie, that's what you want to do. You want to do some things on the field to make yourself seen, and he's definitely done that," said veteran defensive end Marcus Spears, whose own job may be under pressure from Crawford. "He plays with a high motor. He's learning. He's thriving under the direction of the older guys. When you look at it, you kind of admire a guy in that situation because he's coming in here young; he's soaking it all up from the vets."

The Cowboys are likely looking at the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Crawford as a situational pass rusher. He says they'd like to get him up to 295 pounds, which could give him more of a base to hold the edge against the run.

But he has exceeded expectations in that area, too.

"He's actually playing the run a little better than I anticipated," defensive line coach Brian Baker said. "He's a little more stout. The way we play run-blocks is a little different than he did in college, but he's adapted well."

Crawford's football aptitude also attracted the Cowboys, who traded their second-round pick in the Claiborne move and had to wait through 75 picks for the chance to take the Canadian-born player, who got his start in a Canada high school before going to a California junior college for football and then transferring to Boise, where he started only one year.

"The good thing about him is, unlike a lot of young kids I've had, there's no shame in his game," Baker said. "In other words, he'll let me know when he doesn't know. Because a lot of times, you don't know that they don't know until they get out there and screw it up. This is a conscientious kid."

There's no shame in Crawford's singing, either. When it's his turn to take the rookie singing hazing, he has to knock out the Canadian national anthem. He got help from veteran long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, a fellow Canadian, but Crawford figures he can do fine.

"It's all fun and games," he said. "Me and L.P. can handle it."

But enough about the singing. How about the pass rush?

"I feel like I have a pretty decent pass rush as far as bull rush, but I definitely need to work something off my bull rush," Crawford said. "That's definitely something me, Coach Baker and Big Cat have been working on. Hopefully, I can do that in this first game."

Big Cat is former Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett, now a coaching intern with the Cowboys.

"He's forgotten more moves than I know," Crawford said.

Crawford said Lett is understanding as a coach, but pushes hard.

"When you're doing something wrong, he'll tell you, and then he'll get you right on what you're doing," Crawford said. "He likes to rep things. Back when I was injured, my calf was still a little bit sore and everything and he had me out there going 100 times on the sleds."

So does Crawford see himself in anything Lett did as a player?

Crawford smiled.

"I cannot even compare myself to Big Cat," Crawford said. "He's a great pass rusher. I'm just going to take everything in. Everything he says, I'm going to take it in, learn from him as much as I can. Hopefully, I can become the pass rusher that he was."

The Cowboys would sing about that.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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