Mac Engel

Cowboys should count on Lawrence, hope for Gregory

Rookie defensive end Randy Gregory will have a chance to be a factor for the Cowboys this season.
Rookie defensive end Randy Gregory will have a chance to be a factor for the Cowboys this season. Star-Telegram

One of the proven theories from the Mark Ingles Skool of Sports Nowledge is that for an NFL team to count on a rookie to produce big is exceptionally dangerous and stupid.

A rookie has never done it before, and to count on production from an unknown is dangerous. This theory for the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line means the team should expect production from DeMarcus Lawrence but not Randy Gregory. Lawrence was a rookie last season, and made enough plays in limited duty that the team can expect more from him.

Gregory was playing at the University of Nebraska last season, and has not done a thing in the NFL. He should have (easily) been a first-round pick, but “character” concerns knocked him down to the second round. The first impression eyeball test in training camp says he looks like a player, but who cares? Call me in September when he’s actually done something.

There is no position of greater need than the defensive line, which is why the team took the PR hit and gambled on signing Greg Hardy. But he is here on a one-year deal; when his deal is up, he will follow the money. Gregory and Lawrence are long-term solutions to their pass rushing problems.

The Cowboys should expect consistent improvement and plays from Lawrence this season. They should expect inconsistency from Gregory.

I tested this theory with NFL Network analyst and former NFL defensive lineman/linebacker Willie McGinest.

“I disagree; it depends on the rookie and it depends on the player,” McGinest said. “Some guys come in and can handle the load. I watched Aldon Smith come into the league a few years ago and had over 15 sacks. Von Miller is another guy. J.J. Watt is another; instant impact guys. It depends on the player when you talk about if they can handle the load and be productive right away.”

At least according to McGinest, the Cowboys should be able to count on Gregory to be a good NFL player immediately.

“Absolutely; being a rookie has nothing to do with it,” McGinest said. “It’s about the man. He’s an extraordinary talent. He has the understanding how to use his talent; he’s long, he has long arms, he plays with a motor, with intensity in college. That goes a long way on this level. And his defensive coordinator is not going to take anything less. If you have a guy like that’s pushing him, he will be fine.”

The Cowboys have so much faith in him they gave him the No. 94 — the name number previously worn by DeMarcus Ware and Charles Haley. They were decent players; Ware holds the franchise record in sacks, and Haley was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. Gregory said he had nothing to do with the jersey selection.

“It’s not a big deal, or not as big of a deal as everyone else is out to make it,” he said. “They gave it to me. At the end of the day, it’s a number. Any level I have been on I have been successful and I think I can here.”

If the character issue is not an issue, Gregory has all of the signs to be a productive pass rusher. At a minimum, he looks the part. What he does not have is any practical NFL experience, which Lawrence does.

A second-round pick last season, he was limited to seven regular-season games after he broke his foot in the preseason. When he did play, he was visible; he had a game-saving sack and fumble recovery in the playoff win against the Detroit Lions, and he was the only player to sniff Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the divisional playoff loss.

Lawrence looks a little bit bigger than he did last season, and he will be given every single chance to prove he can play. Along with Tyrone Crawford, Lawrence and Gregory should — should — give the Cowboys a competent defensive line.

“I feel great about myself. I feel very confident,” he said.

He’s not exactly long-winded, and Gregory may ultimately be a better player, but as far as this season Lawrence will be the better player.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog

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