Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is only concerned about fielding the best defensive line possible.
Forget that the Dallas Cowboys handed Tyrone Crawford a $45 million extension before last season to develop into an elite three-technique tackle, or that their “big” additions this off-season along the line were Cedric Thornton and Benson Mayowa.
Marinelli is constantly mixing and matching his line to get the most production, and might have found something that worked Sunday in Washington.
The Cowboys moved Crawford to left end with Jack Crawford at right end, and had Maliek Collins and Terrell McClain inside when the defense pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter.
That is the clubhouse leader for best defensive line group the Cowboys can field, and could very well start against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.
“We’re going to keep looking at them,” Marinelli said. “You’re on an interview every week. Unpack everything except your toothbrush. But that’s it. I like these guys. I’ve said that from the beginning. They really work at it.”
The most significant development for the Cowboys is Tyrone Crawford moving to end and getting more reps there throughout practice this week.
Crawford had been viewed as the future three-technique tackle for the Cowboys, flourishing in 2014 with three sacks and 29 quarterback hurries in 12 starts at tackle. He had five sacks with 27 pressures last season.
But McClain has proved to be a more disruptive force at the under tackle spot, and Crawford has enough versatility to play outside. Again, it’s about getting the best players on the field for the Cowboys.
This is a team that has ranked near the bottom in sacks the past two seasons, recording 28 in 2014 and 31 in 2015. They have four so far this season, on pace for only 32.
Crawford recorded a sack last week from the end position, although he’ll continue to get reps at under tackle. However, the switch to the outside isn’t something that Crawford seemed to mind. He described feeling as though he’d been “hit by a bus” after games as the three-technique, and feeling “like a fricken butterfly” after games at defensive end.
“The hardest part was trying to remember the assignments,” Crawford said. “That’s it.”
McClain, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise after being limited to only two games last season with a toe injury. Marinelli said McClain has “really emerged” to earn the starting job as the under tackle.
Through two games, McClain has been credited with 10 tackles by the coaches’ breakdown – the most of any linemen – along with one tackle for loss and two pressures.
Jack Crawford has also done well enough to surpass Mayowa for more playing time at right end, and Collins is flashing potential early on as a rookie.
That leaves Mayowa, Thornton and David Irving coming off the bench.
“Jack is solid and Benson can come in and give us some juice where we take him out of some of the heavy pounding,” Marinelli said. “You get Jack over there and it’s another big man on base. Then we just roll them after that.”
Marinelli having to shuffle his D-line early shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, this is a unit that had the most questions coming into the season with a group of no-name players trying to get the job done.
“I’m mixing and matching,” Marinelli said. “We’ve got to keep the best guys I think that can help us win.”
Cowboys vs. Bears
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5