Randy Gregory & Demarcus Lawrence were expected to be the top two pass rushers for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. Now they will both be spectators through at least the first month of the season. Gregory is off at rehab and may have just smoked his way out of Dallas altogether.
How did they get here?
Bad characters, good young men making bad decisions or irresponsibility of the front office to adequately include character in their player evaluations. These are all viable reasons for the predicament the Dallas Cowboys now find themselves living through on their defense in general and their defensive line in particular. In fact, any two of them could make for a very spirited debate in the next He Said/She Said.
Who can help?
I’ll save the why’s for another day. What is relevant now for this discussion is not why this problem exists, but rather who will step up on the defensive line in their absence and even challenge them when they return? This is also very important to the success of this year’s team. My answer is a former Purdue Boilermaker…Ryan Russell.
Who is Ryan Russell?
Anyone that has followed the Cowboys closely over the past couple of training camps knows this young man as Rod Marinelli’s whipping boy from the 2015 off season. Rarely did a day go by that there weren’t pictures, video or written reports of the verbal abuse Russell received from Marinelli.
Most observers wrote Ryan Russell off after seeing that, but I did not. I looked at one of the best defensive line coaches this league has known and saw him giving this much of his valuable time & energy to someone and came to the only logical conclusion. Marinelli saw potential in Russell that made him worth the effort.
While Marinelli’s apparent belief in Russell’s ability is a great place to start, it wasn’t enough to get him on the field last year. So what makes 2016 different? Following the reports of the first week of training camp, we have seen that Russell has come in and been an impact player on the defensive line in the competitive parts of practice. Russell has always passed the eyeball test but he is even leaner now. This has allowed him to increase his quickness. That, in-turn, let’s him utilize his speed to power rush more effectively.
Why Ryan Russell?
The Cowboys believe that Ryan Russell was undervalued coming out of college. His coaches played him out of place as a DE in the 3-4 defense after a coaching change moved the team to the 3-4 in his junior year. The tape of him in the previous two years showed a quick first step and relentless motor. These traits are the hallmarks of Marinelli coached players.
Russell is getting the benefit of working against the best LT in football on a daily basis. This year, he is taking advantage of those reps. Even better for Russell, the air is no longer littered with Marinelli’s profanity-laced tirades aimed at him. He has even been the subject of some flattering comments by the venerable Marinelli. He will have some stiff competition from other young defensive linemen. David Irving, Benson Mayowa and even rookie Charles Tapper may eventually have a lot to say about whether Ryan Russell is a starter this year.
What I have liked most about Russell is that he has flexibility to play both LDE & RDE. That could allow the Cowboys to move their best pass rusher, Demarcus Lawrence to the high leverage RDE. This could make the Cowboys better at both DE positions. Russell can be a major cog in what may just turn out to be a deep rotation after all.
Let us know who you think will step up at DE in the first month of the season.