FRISCO, Texas -DeMarcus Lawrence has walked around the Cowboys’ practice facility the past three days with a replica WBC heavyweight championship belt, the reward for coach Jason Garrett naming him player of the game.
At times, he’s worn it around his waist; other times he’s carried it across his shoulder. Bottom line: It’s never far from him.
Lawrence had five tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in the 19-3 win.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the four-year veteran dominate a game, and another strong performance Sunday would go a long way toward helping the Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos.
Lawence had an eight-game stretch in the second half of the 2015 season that was as good as we’ve seen around here in a while.
Lawrence had seven sacks and a number of impact plays in an otherwise disastrous 4-12 season. It seemed like the 2014 second-round draft choice was about to become the game-changing pass-rusher the Cowboys have coveted since DeMarcus Ware was in his prime.
It never happened. It still hasn’t. Blame Lawrence’s poor judgment and health.
The NFL suspended Lawrence for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the league’s PED policy, and he was further hampered by a back injury that would eventually require him to have surgery for the second time in two years.
He finished with one sack.
But Lawrence’s greatest strength is his mental toughness and his ability to fight through disappointment with the same tenacity he battles offensive linemen.
A four-game suspension interrupted Lawrence’s 2016 season along with a back injury that forced him to have a second surgery in as many years in February. He played in just nine games and recorded only one sack
Lawrence said he knew in the Cowboys’ 2015 training camp that he would need another back surgery but opted put it off until after the 2016 season because the team needed him.
“You just gotta do what you gotta do,” Lawrence said. “It’s not about feeling sorry for yourself, it’s about helping the team however you can help them.
“As long as you have a game, you can play and help your team. You still have time to win.”
See, it’s that mental approach that helped Lawrence overcome a gaffe in his first playoff game.
Against Detroit in 2014, Lawrence tried to advance a fumble late in the fourth quarter with Dallas leading 24-20. He fumbled and Detroit recovered, giving them another chance to rally. Later, Lawrence sacked Matt Stafford, forcing a fumble that he recovered to end the comeback.
“That play he made as a rookie in Detroit in the playoffs showed me a lot about him,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “That showed great character. Most guys would’ve gone in the tank and sat on the sideline pouting, but he came back ready to go.”
Lawrence is the only defensive end on the roster with elite pass-rushing ability, and he must play with non-stop effort to succeed. The Cowboys need him to play well this season.
If he does, then the Cowboys have enough solid pass-rushers such as Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins who should be able to take advantage of one-on-one matchups they’ll get if teams must focus on Lawrence.
"I feel like I'm myself and I can rush like I'm supposed to and live up to my abilities,” Lawrence said. “Not being healthy the last couple of seasons kind of slowed me down. I feel like I got my speed back.”
It comes at the right time. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, and he knows teams pay big dollars for pass-rushers.
The Cowboys no longer like to spend money on free agents from other teams. They’d rather give cash to players they’ve developed, which means Lawrence has an opportunity to cash in big in Dallas with a big season.
“You’ve got to be happy for DeMarcus,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “His road has not been easy. Rod Marinelli has done an outstanding job and got him ready to go. There is no question that he is the player we hoped for when we drafted him. We hoped he’d get it together and be what he is on the field now, he’s putting it all together.”