The Dallas Cowboys already have given away Greg Hardy’s No. 76 jersey number. But the name on the back isn’t a familiar one.
Undrafted rookie Rodney Coe, whom the Cowboys made a priority free agent, hopes to be better than expected. So do draft choices Charles Tapper and Maliek Collins and restricted free agent signee Benson Mayowa.
Hardy and Jeremy Mincey’s departures left a big question for the Cowboys: Who is going to rush the passer?
The Cowboys’ unsung pass-rushers hope to answer with an exclamation point this season.
“I’m not loud,” said Mayowa, who has two career sacks. “I don’t want to talk or brag or boast about anything, but you know … ‘who is this guy?’ I’m not really worried about that stuff. Football will take care of itself.”
The Cowboys have not had more than 40 sacks in a season since 2011, when they recorded 42.
The Cowboys’ top defensive ends, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, are expected to serve four-game suspensions to start the season, though Lawrence awaits a ruling on his appeal.
The punishment will hurt the Cowboys more than it hurts the players. As it was, Dallas had only 31 sacks last season, three more than the previous season.
“I was definitely disappointed, surprised — all that,” starting defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said of the suspensions. “I had my words with them. But that’s all you can really do at this point, is have your words with them and tell them how you feel. Maybe just try and get in their head that this has got to change.”
The Cowboys have not had more than 40 sacks since 2011, when they recorded 42. They have not had a double-digit sack leader since defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013. Lawrence’s eight sacks led them last season.
After trying a big-name free agent in Hardy last season, they are going young this season.
They did not sign any unrestricted free agents at defensive end and waited until the third round to draft a defensive tackle — Collins — and the fourth round to draft a defensive end — Tapper. The Cowboys did add Mayowa after the Raiders declined to match the offer, and they signed unrestricted free agent Cedric Thornton, who is expected to start at nose tackle. The Cowboys have said they like both players’ “upside.”
I feel like [the pass rush is] going to be better, not just because of me, but because of the work these guys have been putting in during the off-season.
Cowboys third-round pick Charles Tapper
It’s the same word they used after drafting Collins and Tapper.
The Cowboys are counting on all of them to play a part in the defensive line rotation this season.
“I feel like [the pass rush is] going to be better, not just because of me, but because of the work these guys have been putting in during the off-season,” Tapper said. “So I’m looking forward to coming in and helping out.”
The Cowboys have nine defensive ends on their roster who have combined for 16 career sacks. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt led the league with 17.5 sacks last season.
Dallas’ seven defensive tackles have a combined 15.5 sacks.
Crawford and Lawrence, both of whom have eight career sacks, are the team leaders.
However they do it, the Cowboys have to figure out a way to get better pressure on the quarterback than they have the past two seasons, said coach Jason Garrett.
“Pressure on the quarterback is a big part of playing good defense,” Garrett said. “I think everyone understands that. You want to make that guy be uncomfortable. It starts with your ability to rush with the down guys. There are different ways to affect the quarterback. You can bring different kinds of pressures. That’s part of what we do, but you certainly want a presence with your four-down guys in this defense. We’ve added a couple of guys in the draft. We’ve added a couple guys in free agency. You put it together, and we’ll do our best to have an impact on opposing offenses that way.”