The return of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has everyone within the Dallas Cowboys organization feeling better about the pass rush going forward.
This is a team that has been sack-starved to start the season, recording only six sacks through four games, but Lawrence is the most talented pass rusher on the roster.
Lawrence led the team with eight sacks a year ago, including seven in the final eight weeks. But he violated the league’s substance-abuse policy and served a four-game suspension to start the season.
Lawrence declined multiple interview requests throughout the week, as he was not required to speak with reporters since he hasn’t been placed on the active roster yet. The Cowboys must make that move by 3 p.m. Saturday.
But Lawrence’s coaches and teammates are high on his return.
“I think he’s ready to play and he’ll have a big impact,” linebacker Sean Lee said.
Added defensive end Tyrone Crawford: “He’s going to help this team get more sacks.”
Improving the pass rush has been a storyline the past couple of seasons after the Cowboys had only 28 in 2014 and 31 a season ago. They’re on pace for 24 this season.
Lawrence is being counted on heavily, although the team has been cautious in his return after he had a setback in recovering from off-season back surgery.
But owner Jerry Jones said during a radio interview on 105.3 The Fan on Friday that Lawrence would play and be a part of the defensive line rotation against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
It’s unknown how many snaps would be realistic for Lawrence to play.
“You want the guy right,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “We’ve got to make sure he’s ready to go and feeling good and all those things.”
When he’s right, of course, Lawrence is a threat off the edge. Given how the Cowboys practiced this week, Lawrence is expected to see time mostly at right defensive end with Crawford on the left side.
Terrell McClain will continue being the primary three-technique tackle and rookie Maliek Collins at nose tackle.
Crawford feels that the presence of Lawrence should open things up for the rest of the line.
“Now we can kind of direct where the chipper is going to go and maybe where the center is going to slide and different things like that,” Crawford said. “It definitely opens up more one-on-one opportunities for other guys.
“I’m hoping with D coming back it’s going to help our pass rush and get to the quarterback better.”
Lawrence has said in the past that he hopes to pick up where he left off last season, and is expecting big things out of himself. Lawrence appeared to be on the verge of taking the next step, but the suspension has delayed his development.
That doesn’t mean it won’t still come.
“He’s a real good pass rusher,” Marinelli said. “I thought he was really on course of taking that next step those guys take. He had a good year last year and a chance to build on it. But we’ve got to try to do what we can do to build off it now.”
DeMarcus Lawrence is expected to play, and so is kicker Dan Bailey and left tackle Tyron Smith, owner Jerry Jones said on his weekly 105.3 The Fan radio show Friday.
Bailey and Smith, though, are among nine players listed as questionable for the game. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick is also questionable, and didn’t practice all week. Jones called Scandrick a “game-time decision.”
Another questionable player is running back Lance Dunbar, who didn’t practice this week and is dealing with a knee injury on the same knee that cut his 2015 season short.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant (knee) and swing tackle Chaz Green (foot) are also questionable for the game, along with defensive end Jack Crawford (shoulder) and linebackers Andrew Gachkar (neck) and Mark Nzeocha (Achilles).
Quarterback Tony Romo (back) and defensive end David Irving (concussion) are the only players who have been ruled out for Sunday’s game.