Pressure bursts pipes.
Pressure turns coal into diamonds.
Both of these statements are equally true and both results will play out in 32 training camps this month. The results of being under pressure are clear, step up or step out! In order to figure out which Cowboys are under the most pressure, we need to first determine what is pressure in this context.
What is “under pressure” in a pro football training camp?
Here are several ways these Cowboys players can feel the pressure to perform.
- Making enough plays to at least make the practice squad of a team (current team or another team). These players are living within sight of the very end of their NFL dream sometimes before it even gets started. They have limited opportunities so every poor rep is amplified.
- Making the 53-man regular season roster of a team. This allows the player to move from just keeping their dream alive to actually fulfilling their NFL dreams.
- Make the game day 46-man roster. This provides the player a real chance to establish themselves and provide long term financial security. A player must have a defined role to be on the 46-man roster and a defined role means a chance to display their capabilities and grow their opportunities
- Become a starter/key contributor
- Become a superstar
Coaches are always under pressure. Over the next couple of weeks we will discuss each position group, what pressure the players are under and who we feel is under the most pressure. Next up…Defensive Tackles.
In Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme, the big men in the middle of the defensive line are not just space eaters. This defense expects them to be as quick off the ball as they are strong at the point of attack. It’s a big reason that I could never understand how Nick Hayden was able to keep a starting job. That is a dead horse that most team observers beat for three years.
But now we look at the roster and there are actually viable options at both the defensive tackle positions. Just as we discussed, there are different types of pressure for these players. Tyrone Crawford is under pressure to prove that he is worth the 5 year, $45 million extension the team gave him at the beginning of the 2015 season. Still, the team believes his 2015 was solid even though he played most of last year with a bum shoulder.
The Cowboys have high hopes for Maliek Collins and he isn’t in danger of missing the cut to 53. Rodney Coe and Shaniel Jenkins (who is also getting looks at defensive end) are long shots to make the team which means they are actually overachieving already. These guys are playing with “house money”. Jack Crawford and David Irving have position flexibility that increases their value. Irving could start the first four games if he can get healthy quickly because of his offseason performance.
Defensive Tackle under the most pressure
That leaves us with Cedric Thornton and Terrell McClain. This is ironic because they are both vying to start at the 1 technique. The Cowboys put a lot of faith in Thornton’s ability to upgrade their push up the middle when they poached him from division rival Philadelphia this past spring. You could always follow the money. In this case the first depth chart the team released gives us better insight at who is under the most pressure. To me, that is Terrell McClain.
Terrell McClain looks like the perfect defensive tackle in a Rod Marinelli defense. He is quick enough to penetrate on the outside shoulder of a guard. He is also strong enough to hold up against the run when he lines up over the center. In short stints, he has shown enough ability to begin the preseason at the top of the depth chart. What McClain has not done is proven to be durable and available.
He has lost significant time to injury in both of the past two seasons. The pressure on McClain is to stay out of the tub and on the field. He has the ability to be a force in the middle of this defense and get coached by one of the best defensive line coaches of all time. Combine those two facts and this season is probably McClain’s last, best opportunity to become a player that earns the security of a long term contract.
As fans, we sometimes forget that these players look at their income from football as their primary source for the rest of their lives. A healthy Terrell McClain is in the ideal spot to become very successful under Leon Lett’s and Rod Marinelli’s tutelage. He is also one more injury away from starting his next career. If that happens, he won’t have the financial safety net of a long NFL contract with guaranteed dollars. Because of his ability to succeed or fail spectacularly, Terrell McClain is my choice for the Defensive Tackle under the most pressure.