FRISCO (AP) — DeMarcus Lawrence strapped on the faux boxing championship belt that goes to the weekly MVP for the Cowboys, ready for the cameras with a subtle jab at reporters that they only want to talk to him after the Dallas defensive end gets sacks.
If he’s right, that explained the crowd around him in the locker room at team headquarters three days after Lawrence had two sacks as the Cowboys held a season-opening opponent to the fewest points in 22 years in a 19-3 win over the New York Giants.
Lawrence is in his fourth season since the Cowboys drafted him in the second round two months after releasing franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a cost-cutting move. Injuries and a substance-abuse suspension have slowed his development, but a big year could be coming.
“It was very huge just to let me know that I’ve still got it,” said Lawrence, who had a tone-setting sack of Eli Manning to force a three-and-out on New York’s first possession. “It means a lot going into this season, really just getting those sacks and more to come. Once you get one, they just pile on.”
They haven’t really piled on yet for Lawrence. His career high was eight in 2015, the only one of his three seasons in which he’s played all 16 games. While Lawrence led the team, it was a hollow stat in a first-to-worst 4-12 season ruined by injuries to quarterback Tony Romo.
Lawrence served the four-game suspension at the start of last season, and missed the final three games of the regular season with back problems. The sack total in 2016: one.
The more important number for Lawrence was 10 games played, including a divisional playoff loss to Green Bay after the three-game break. The back issues were bad enough that not playing was a consideration beyond the three games he missed late.
“It was important to me,” said Lawrence, who had a tackle for loss and two other pressures in the opener against the Giants. “I missed those four games and I felt like I owed my teammates more than what I had. There wasn’t no time to back out and hide under the covers.”
It was hard for Lawrence to hide from the day the Cowboys drafted himout of Boise State because he shared a first name with Ware, whose release was fresh on the minds of Cowboys fans.
Ware had eight sacks as a rookie, and followed that with seven straight seasons of double-digit sacks before going to Denver after the release and winning a Super Bowl.
The 35-year-old Ware retired in the offseason after coming close to re-signing with the Cowboys, instead settling for a club record that included a career-high 20 in 2008. Yes, that was his fourth season.
“As a pass rusher, it’s like a developmental thing,” Ware said. “You have to figure out how to study the game, what you do best and then breaking down the offensive linemen and developing your craft. From the beginning, it’s always about effort and how consistent you can be.”
Ware didn’t miss a game his first eight seasons with the Cowboys, whereas Lawrence didn’t make it through his first training camp. He missed the first half of the season after breaking his foot going up against four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith.
“People talk bad about him because he’s been injured and he wasn’t able to play like himself,” said Tyrone Crawford, fellow defensive lineman and Boise State alum. “Now that he’s fresh and feeling good and he is rushing, people think he’s evolved as a pass rusher or something. It’s not that.”
And that’s probably the point Lawrence was trying to make.
“I’m just going to be real, like, nobody wanted to talk to me until I get sacks, so, that’s why I really don’t care about talking now,” Lawrence said. “For what? I just come to do my job. That’s it.”
He’s finally off to a fast start.
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