It’s safe to say defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence‘s rookie season didn’t work out as planned. After being picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2014 draft he spoke with confidence about having an immediate impact.
"“My intention is to go out and get 10 sacks. 10 plus sacks”- DeMarcus Lawrence told ESPN last July."
His lofty prediction came just weeks before he suffered a broken foot after tangling with All-World offensive left tackle Tyron Smith during drills at training camp. Dallas had given up picks to climb the board and land Lawrence. Their need for a legitimate pass rusher since the departure of defensive end DeMarcus Ware was once again a glaring need.
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The injury meant that Lawrence didn’t make his Cowboys debut until the Week 9 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In the nine appearances he made in the season, he had 2 sacks a hit, 11 hurries, 7 tackles and 6 stops. He was arguably more effective than the veteran defensive tackle Henry Melton in the same period, and the rookie showed flashes of what he’s capable of.
His season can be defined by looking back on a handful of plays in the NFC Wild Card game against the Detroit Lions. After seemingly handing the advantage to the Cowboys by gobbling up a fumble by quarterback Matthew Stafford, Lawrence swiftly coughed it back up into the Lions hands. Allowing them another chance to score.
With the Lions on 4th and short the rookie redeemed himself. Slipping past the defensive line, Lawrence grabbed at Stafford forcing the ball to pop out. This time he made no mistake, and launched himself on top of the ball. Rookie error to game saver within a blink of an eye.
"“Coach Leon Lett gave me another chance to go out there and capitalize on the opportunity, and it happened,” Lawrence told ESPN. “I can’t let my teammates down…It’s just a big lesson learned. Two minutes on the clock and you have to stay down.”"
Leon Lett had a couple of those moments in his Cowboys playing career, and it seems at times he’s remembered more for those errors than being a three time Super Bowl winner. As a member of the Cowboys defensive coaching staff now, Lett is excited by what lies ahead for Lawrence. In an interview with UK Cowboys Fans, Lett names Lawrence as his breakout player for 2015.
"“He came back with such a great demeanor. His mentality was right on. He’s worked hard and he’s trying to be a leader on the defensive line in his second year. It’s really important to him”- Leon Lett"
With an overhaul in players on the defensive line and the concerns over Greg Hardy being absent (four game suspension) and Randy Gregory’s fit within the scheme, it’s admirable that Lawrence is wanting to step up and be a leader. Any questions than lingered during the draft over his character and behavior have clearly been answered.
Already he’s looking bigger and stronger than last season, having gained around ten pounds. It’s a nod to that mentality Lett referenced; Lawrence isn’t settling, he’s wanting to get the edge in every way he can.
Leon Lett isn’t the only former player to be excited by Lawrence though. Last month, The Manster Randy White went and checked out the Cowboys practices and he too was full of praise according to the Dallas Morning News.
"“The guy can move like a cat. He’s pretty impressive out there. He can be a game-changer out there if he can continue to improve and play the way he did at the end of last year. I think he’s going to be a great player.”"
But how does the man who pays his wages feel about DeMarcus heading into the new season?
"“Lawrence had everybody frothing at the mouth a little bit out there last week. He has really improved his body during this time off…He’s had quite a physical improvement.”- Jerry Jones via the Dallas Morning News"
With past players, coaches and a owner/general manager gushing about what the season can hold for Lawrence, it really can’t come soon enough.