Dallas Cowboys

Here’s the secret to Demarcus Lawrence’s domination on defense

Tank Lawrence is finally healthy and ready to sack

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tank Lawrence discusses his injuries in 2016 and his team's outlook for 2017 (Video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).
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Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tank Lawrence discusses his injuries in 2016 and his team's outlook for 2017 (Video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Demarcus Lawrence is adamant his fast start isn’t because of a contract year. And it’s definitely not the ammonia inhalants he’ll use during the game to “wake up his body.”

Instead, the reason is quite simple as to why Lawrence is off to such a strong start for the Dallas Cowboys with an NFC-leading 3.5 sacks.

“The key is my back is feeling good,” Lawrence said. “And I’m paying more attention to details. It’s slowing the game down a lot for me. Plus, my coaches and my players are helping me get in the right position to make plays.”

Lawrence had a poor 2016 season with one sack, eight tackles and 13 quarterback pressures in nine games.

Starting the season with a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs didn’t help. Then, when he returned, he battled back injuries.

Lawrence, 25, was never fully healthy last season. He underwent back surgery after his breakout 2015 season when he led the team with eight sacks, but re-aggravated his back injury during training camp last year.

Lawrence knew he’d need another back surgery, but held off until after the season.

“I prevailed through it, so I thought I could do it again,” Lawrence said. “But, nah, it was a little tough.”

Now Lawrence is showing his quickness and speed in getting to the quarterback. He had two sacks last week in Denver, including a strip sack that set up a Cowboys’ touchdown drive.

Lawrence had originally been credited with two sacks against the New York Giants, but he only got credit for a half-sack on his second one as an NFL review gave the other half to defensive tackle Maliek Collins.

Asked how he’ll get that half sack back, Lawrence smiled and said: “I’ll go out and earn it. At least it went to my brother, so I’m cool with it.”

Along with the 3.5 sacks, Lawrence has been credited by the coaches with seven tackles – only one away from his total last season – and a team-leading six quarterback pressures.

All of those numbers, though, don’t mean much to Lawrence at this point. It’s hard to gloat after the Broncos mollywhopped the Cowboys 42-17 last Sunday.

“It’s very frustrating,” Lawrence said of having a good day individually in a loss. “I can go in a game and have no sacks, as long as we win as a team and we get our job done, that’s all I care about.”

That’s why Lawrence seemed annoyed when the “contract year” questions came up earlier this week. Yes, he knows it’s there and would like to be paid among the top pass rushers in the league.

But that isn’t his sole motivation.

“It’s a contract year. So what?” Lawrence said. “I want to be here forever. This year don’t define me as a player. Y’all might say it’s because it’s a contract year, but the first year I was balling. My second year I was balling. My third year I had trouble with my back, so it didn’t seem like I was there. This year doesn’t define me.”

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli agreed.

“You know, all of a sudden, oh, he’s playing good because it’s his contract ... sometimes that’s an insult to a man,” Marinelli said. “I think to him it would be because two years ago he had an unbelievable season. He had the eight sacks that year and played lights out. His rookie year, he was beat up and all those things, you remember the Detroit game [in the playoffs]? Dropped the fumble and then came back and had a sack-fumble and recovered it? Showed his character is off the charts.

“So I think he just really loves to play football.”

Lawrence also chuckled when someone mentioned seeing him use ammonia inhalants during the game. He described it as a way to “wake you up” before a series.

“You can sit down on the bench, start to get a little tired, you’ve got to wake your body up and that’s what a little ammonia does for you,” Lawrence said. “Why, you think that’s the key to my game?”

Asked if it was, Lawrence smiled and said: “Heck, no. Come on, man.”

As stated, it’s his health. Now he just has to sustain it going forward.

“He’s started the season really well,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He loves to play football. He works very hard at it. He’s been able to take his practice work to the game and been very productive for us so far.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

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