Stephen Jones didn’t sugarcoat it when it came to evaluating the Dallas Cowboys’ pass rush corps.
The executive vice president understands the skepticism about whether their ragtag group can even get a hand on an opposing quarterback. No defensive end on the roster has double-digit sacks in his career, and the two most talented — DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory — are set to serve four-game suspensions to open the season.
Then, on Tuesday, it was announced that free agent signee Benson Mayowa, who had received heavy praise throughout the off-season, would be sidelined six weeks following left knee surgery.
“On paper, I don’t think we have anybody who has ever had 10 sacks in a season. That sticks out like a sore thumb,” Stephen Jones said after a groundbreaking ceremony for a Baylor Scott & White sports medicine facility being built at The Star.
The sports-centric health center is expected to open in early 2018 and focus on injury prevention, research and wellness for athletes of all levels. Jones was among the Cowboys’ contingent at the ceremony and is excited about that partnership.
He’s excited about the Cowboys getting back to their winning ways on the field, too, and remains optimistic that their no-name bunch of pass rushers will exceed expectations. The Cowboys haven’t recorded more than 40 sacks in a season since 2011, and haven’t had a double-digit sack artist since Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013.
But, much like Stephen, owner Jerry Jones feels good about what the team has internally. Jerry Jones mentioned David Irving and Ryan Russell as two players who have stood out during minicamp.
“A couple guys the last couple of days have really shown some aptitude out there,” Jerry Jones said. “In Irving’s case, he looks really apt outside and looks like it might fit him a little bit naturally even as much or more as inside.
“I do feel good about our numbers. We need to have as few disruptions or compromises in camp as we can. We need all these guys out there taking reps. Not from the standpoint of evaluating, but from the standpoint of getting their reps so they can come in and do a rotation when we open against the Giants [on Sept. 11].”
The borderline blind optimism is understandable. This is a team that attempted to improve its pass rush a year ago by signing controversial defensive end Greg Hardy. But Hardy had six sacks and created numerous headaches off the field.
With Hardy, the Cowboys only saw their sacks increase by three, going from 28 in 2014 to 31 in 2015. So a big-name addition, as Stephen Jones alluded to, doesn’t always mean better results.
“We might not have a 10-sack guy, but if we can have six 5-to-7 sack guys, we’ll get the sacks,” Stephen Jones said. “We’ve just got to do it by committee and figure out a way to get pressure on the passer. I think we can.”
The Mayowa injury, coupled with the looming suspension for Gregory and Lawrence, seems to suggest depth is a concern.
That doesn’t mean the Cowboys will re-consider their stance on Hardy, but they’ll at least look for outside options. Prior to the 2013 season, for instance, the Cowboys signed George Selvie.
Selvie ended up winning a starting job and recording seven sacks that year. Maybe the Cowboys will find another hidden gem of that nature.
“I’ve always said we’re looking 365 days a year,” Stephen Jones said.
But the Cowboys don’t feel they have to do something.
Mayowa is expected to be ready when training camp opens next month, or shortly thereafter. And this is essentially the group the Cowboys have been banking on all off-season.
Plus, as Stephen Jones said, it doesn’t hurt that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is known for his ability to develop edge rushers.
“He’s going to go coach their butt off no matter who is out there,” Stephen Jones said. “They’re going to play hard for him and that’s why I feel good about it. If there’s one guy I could have coaching the team who doesn’t have a 10-sack guy, then you want Rod.
“He’s going to get the most out of any guy out there.”
Dallas Cowboys schedule
Saturday, Aug. 13 at Los Angeles Rams, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Friday, Aug. 19 vs. Miami, 7 p.m., (KTVT/11)
Thursday, Aug. 25 at Seattle, 9 p.m. (KTVT/11)
Thursday, Sept. 1 vs. Houston, 7 p.m. (KTVT/11)
Sunday, Sept. 11 vs. New York Giants, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Sept. 18 at Washington, Noon, (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Sept. 25 vs. Chicago, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)
Sunday, Oct. 2 at San Francisco, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Cincinnati, 3:25 p.m. (KTVT/11)
Sunday, Oct. 16 at Green Bay, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Oct. 23 Bye
Sunday, Oct. 30 vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)
Sunday, Nov. 6 at Cleveland, Noon, (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Nov. 13 at Pittsburgh, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Baltimore, Noon (KTVT/11)
Thursday, Nov. 24 vs. Washington, 3:30 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Thursday, Dec. 1 at Minnesota, 7:25 p.m. (KXAS/5, NFL Network and Twitter)
Sunday, Dec. 11 at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)
Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Tampa Bay, Noon, (KDFW/4)
Monday, Dec. 26 vs. Detroit, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, Jan. 1 at Philadelphia, Noon (KDFW/4)