Improving the pass rush has become a common off-season storyline for the Dallas Cowboys in recent years and it remains so going into 2017.
Two years ago, the Cowboys rolled the dice in the free agent market (Greg Hardy) and draft (Randy Gregory), creating more headaches than sacks. Last season, they went with a no-name approach by acquiring low-cost players such as Benson Mayowa and Cedric Thornton.
Neither strategy has worked too well and the Cowboys are again in the market for pass rushers. The draft is the most likely avenue for the Cowboys to address the area this time and the organization has its eyes on plenty of pass rushers at the Senior Bowl this week. The game is Saturday.
“We’ve been wanting to improve on that for several years now,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We’ve taken shots at it. A couple years ago we did, and it didn’t work out. We’re playing good, sound defense – good, solid defense. But obviously, that’s our No. 1 priority, to continue to try to get pressure on the passer. We’re big believers that it can certainly change the dynamic of your defense and therefore your football team.
“So we’ll continue to try to improve in that area. With our cap situation the way it is, and really at the end of the day our philosophy – we’re not big on overspending in free agency. If you ask me where we’ve got the best opportunity, it’s to go to work in the draft. Whether that’s the first pick, the second pick, the third pick – I can’t tell you how the draft’s going to turn out. “
The Senior Bowl boasts plenty of intriguing pass rush prospects. Texas A&M’s Daeshon Hall had an impressive first day, according to CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler.
There are also players such as Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon and Michigan’s Chris Wormley on hand.
Wormley is an intriguing player to consider for Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 scheme because he has experience playing inside and outside along the line. Marinelli is a fan of versatile defensive linemen to rotate in his system.
“I’m a very versatile player and that’s what I want to show teams,” Wormley said. “I’m definitely a pocket pusher on the outside and, when I moved inside, I got more pressure.”
The Cowboys could use more pressure. They finished with 36 sacks, which ranked 13th in the NFL, but the pass rush was far too inconsistent over the course of the season.
The Cowboys had only 19 sacks through the first 11 games before racking up 17 in the final five. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins passed 53 times in Week 12, and the Cowboys didn’t sack him once. In the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, defensive backs accounted for all three sacks.
Mayowa ended up leading the Cowboys with six sacks even though he was benched for three games. Rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins had five, and defensive end Tyrone Crawford had 4.5.
Crawford is the only defensive linemen with double-digit sacks in his career (12.5). The other Cowboys defender with career double-digit sacks? Cornerback Orlando Scandrick (11.5). The Cowboys haven’t had a player register double-digit sacks in a season since DeMarcus Ware had 11.5 in 2012.
Arguably the Cowboys’ best pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, had only one sack in nine games. He is scheduled to undergo back surgery. The most talented pass rusher, Gregory, is suspended for 2017.
“To be fair, [improving the pass rush] is an area that very few teams don’t want to address and get better pressure with a standard, unskewed defense,” owner Jerry Jones said. “That, and the game that we have today, departs reality almost the minute it comes out of your mouth. So you not only have to have as good of players as you can, as talented of players as you can, but you also have to have some schemes that can give these quarterbacks a little headache out there in terms of what they’ve got to decide. Not physically, but what they’ve got to decide. Now, that’s a mouthful.
“The answer is we’re always going to be looking for a way to improve our pressure.”