Dallas Cowboys

DeMarcus Lawrence ready to live up to Cowboys’ expectations

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) grabs the ball as Detroit Lions tackle Riley Reiff (71) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) try to recover the fumble at the end of the fourth quarter on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, at AT&T Stadium.
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) grabs the ball as Detroit Lions tackle Riley Reiff (71) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) try to recover the fumble at the end of the fourth quarter on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, at AT&T Stadium. Star-Telegram

The Dallas Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Lawrence last year to replace DeMarcus Ware at right end. But left may be right for Lawrence.

Lawrence appears to be a better fit on the other side, and thus will begin his second season on the left side.

“I actually feel I am best at left end,” Lawrence said. “I feel like I get off way better on my left side, keeping my right hand down. So we are working on that right now. We’re still trying to fill in some spots at right end.”

The Cowboys signed Greg Hardy and drafted Randy Gregory in the second round to help a pass rush that had only 28 sacks last season. But Lawrence could have as much to do with an improved Cowboys pass rush as anyone.

After missing nine games with a broken right foot that required surgery, Lawrence sealed the Cowboys’ playoff win over the Detroit Lions with a strip-sack. In two playoff games, he recorded three tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits, forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles.

“I feel like by the playoff stretch and me going in there and getting two sacks in the playoffs just made me flip a switch, helping me get more focused on my career and this season,” Lawrence said.

The Cowboys will continue to rotate their defensive linemen. But Lawrence, who weighs the same 260 pounds he did last season but has added muscle, gets the first shot at the starting left end job.

“He has traits to play both sides,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The left defensive end typically is the sturdier, bigger guy, maybe a little bit more of a run defender to go along with being a pass rusher. The right defensive end typically is the guy that is in the back side of the quarterback’s vision, and he’s typically the elite pass rusher. But there have been a lot of great left defensive end pass rushers and a lot of good right defensive end run defenders.”

The Cowboys gave up a third-round pick last year to swap spots with the Washington Redskins in the second round. So Lawrence gets the expectations everyone has for him.

“You don’t sit there and trade up a pick and not get all that you deserve from him, so they are going to expect a lot,” Lawrence said. “I expect a lot from myself. We’re going to get some things done this year.”

Run game

DeMarco Murray left for Philadelphia. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan left for Washington. Yet, Jerry Jones insists the team’s running game, which ranked second in the league last season and featured the league’s leading rusher, improved this off-season.

“The entire [running] game we’re better. We’re better,” the owner said. “Murray certainly is in that thought, but what we’ve got a chance to do with our depth, what we’ve got a chance to do with the talent, the competition that we have, and I’m assuming we can protect [Tony] Romo, which standing here last year, the concerns about his surgeries were more so than today.

“So if Romo can have the kind of year he had last year, then our running game will benefit from that. I’m talking about his individual abilities, his decision-making throwing the ball.”

The Cowboys finished with 508 run plays and 506 pass plays last season as Murray rushed for 1,845 rushing yards.

Dallas didn’t draft a running back, leaving the four veteran running backs on the roster to compete for roster spots, playing time and carries. Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams have combined in their careers for 1,281 carries for 5,242 yards and 30 touchdowns, catching a combined 261 passes for 2,206 yards and five touchdowns.

Most of those numbers belong to McFadden, who played seven years in Oakland. He has 1,038 career carries for 4,247 yards and 25 touchdowns with 211 catches for 1,769 yards and five touchdowns.

Cowboys sign McCray

The Cowboys signed safety Danny McCray to a one-year deal Thursday. McCray was a core special teams player for the team for four seasons.

McCray played for Chicago last season, making 10 special teams tackles. He made 73 special teams tackles with Dallas, ranking sixth in team history.

The team announced several other moves Thursday, signing rookie free agent Donnie Baggs, an outside linebacker from Texas A&M as well as draft pick Geoff Swaim, a tight end from Texas.

Baggs participated in Cowboys rookie minicamp as a weekend workout. Swaim was a seventh-round draft pick, becoming the third of eight draft choices to sign.

The Cowboys waived linebackers Keith Smith and Will Smith.

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @NFLCharean

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram