Jerry Jones has craved a “war daddy” pass rusher ever since DeMarcus Ware left the Dallas Cowboys after the 2013 season.
He might finally have one in DeMarcus Lawrence. Named the NFC’s defensive player of the month for September, Lawrence leads the NFL with 6.5 sacks through three games.
Does Lawrence feel like a “war daddy?”
“I feel like I’m a Tank,” Lawrence said, referring to his nickname.
Well, that will do for a team that has been desperate to bolster its pass rush in recent years.
They whiffed in the big-name, albeit controversial, free-agent route when the Cowboys brought in Greg Hardy in 2015. They also had a failed attempt to date in addressing it via the draft with Randy Gregory being suspended more games than active, and this year’s first-round pick Taco Charlton getting off to a less-than-promising start.
That’s why a player such as Benson Mayowa could lead the team with six sacks a season ago.
But Lawrence has already surpassed that total and is living up to his Twitter bio being a “sack master.” As stated, he’s been the “tank” so far for the defense.
And Lawrence is proud of his childhood nickname that has stuck with him. That’s what his mom, Yvonne, calls him to this day.
It all started when Lawrence and an older neighbor were doing WWE wrestling moves on each other. The older guy landed a “DDT” on Lawrence, a wrestling move where the opponent is in an inverted headlock and the wrestler falls down to drive the opponent’s head into the mat.
At the time, the older neighbor bragged to Lawrence’s brother that he “tanked” Lawrence on the head.
“It followed me through football and everybody started calling me ‘Tank,’ ” Lawrence said. “Then my parents started calling me ‘Tank.’ Then my [high school] coach, he was like, ‘Man, he sucks. He can’t block. Don’t call him ‘Tank.’ Don’t call him Diesel. Don’t call him nothing.’
“That kind of stuck with me. Like, how are you going to take that from me? So I established it and wanted to make it known that I’m ‘Tank.’ ”
If Lawrence continues his impressive start, his “Tank” nickname will only grow among the fan base.
His teammates and opponents have already taken notice.
“He’s on fire right now,” cornerback and defensive captain Orlando Scandrick said. “He’s in a zone.”
The Cowboys host the Rams at noon Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“He certainly is a force,” said Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay. “He’s affecting the game as much as any defensive lineman around the league right now.”
The key for Lawrence is sustaining his play going forward. Teams will plan against him more in the coming weeks with double teams and chip blocks and things of that nature.
Lawrence is ready for it and believes that the trick in combating that is with solid interior play by under tackle Maliek Collins.
Collins had two sacks against the Cardinals on Monday, and the hope for the Cowboys is that offenses have to “pick their poison” between Lawrence and Collins, so to speak.
“The attention can only go so far when you’ve got a dominant 3-technique, and I feel like Maliek is that guy,” Lawrence said. “He’s going to be able to take a lot of pressure off me.”
Said Collins, “We’re going to keep coming, man. We’re going to keep growing. We want to be the most dominant line.”
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is accustomed to having defensive ends attract plenty of attention. This is a coach who has worked with elite pass rushers such as Julius Peppers in Chicago and Simeon Rice in Tampa Bay.
Marinelli is pleased with Lawrence’s start, even though his grades might not reflect that.
Asked if Lawrence has gotten A’s in each of the games, Marinelli smiled and said, “Pretty good.”
But Marinelli raved about Lawrence’s “extraordinary quickness and suddenness.”
“When you’re playing up front, it’s all about quickness,” Marinelli said. “Quick feet. Suddenness. Change of direction. He’s relentless.”
It’s coming together for Lawrence after a frustrating one-sack season a year ago. Lawrence served a four-game suspension to start the season, and then battled through back injuries much of that year.
He had back surgery this off-season for the second time in as many years, and finally feels like his former self. He also downplays the “contract year” label even though he’ll most likely reap the benefits this off-season.
Regardless, Lawrence has been the Cowboys’ top player in their first two wins. The evidence is what’s in his locker — a custom World Boxing Council championship belt given as a gift to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett from WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman.
Garrett gives the belt to the player who had the biggest impact in a winning performance.
“I’m the champ,” Lawrence said. “I told y’all — it ain’t going nowhere. That’s my belt.”
The Cowboys wouldn’t complain if Lawrence keeps it the rest of the way. That would be a good thing for the team.
“He’s certainly getting off the football and he’s playing with a relentless spirit,” Garrett said. “It’s showing up in his production, and that production is contagious.”
Cowboys vs. Rams
Noon Sunday, KDFW/4