Demarcus Lawrence's Versatile Skill Set Has Made Him Among NFL's Best

The sacks didn't make Demarcus Lawrence a star.

They helped, no doubt, but it's the other stuff that made the Dallas Cowboys defensive end one of the NFL's best players, a fact confirmed when he was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.

He's among the NFL's best because he plays the run with as much fervor as he rushes the passer. His teammates talk about how hard Lawrence plays every snap of every game. And defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could spend an hour talking about Lawrence's effort in practice.

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"Watch the tape, I put on a show," Lawrence said Thursday after practice. "I got a Pro Bowl day off, so I had fresh legs."

Lawrence didn't practice Wednesday because of some back discomfort, always a concern for a player who's had two back surgeries, including one before the start of last season.

Lawrence's performance this season — he's third in the NFL with 13.5 sacks, while leading the NFL with 45 quarterback pressures — has positioned him for a huge payday.

Either the Cowboys will sign him to a five- or six-year deal that averages about $14 million, or the Cowboys will give him the franchise tag, which is expected to be worth $17 million for one season.

In numerous conversations throughout the season, Lawrence has made it clear he'd like a long-term deal, but understands the Cowboys would probably prefer the franchise tag since he's had back injuries and this is his first dominant season.

"It has been a buildup," Marinelli said. "He's kind of capped it off, and that's what you love to see in a young player that you draft. The playing hard — you'll take the numbers — but it's the passion. He's relentless. He reflects the system just like Sean Lee in how how relentless they play."

"He's from sideline-to-sideline and that energizes he rest of those guys. He embodies the standard of how we want to play," Marinelli said.

Understand, this is the pass-rusher the Cowboys thought they were acquiring in 2014, when they took him with the 34th pick overall. He flashed this type of ability on 2015, when he had sacks in seven of the club's final eight games.

But he managed just one sack in nine games last year as he struggled through a back injury that required off-season surgery to repair. A suspension for violating the league's PED policy cost him the season's first four games.

Lawrence has said he felt like he owed it to his teammates to play through the injury and postpone surgery.

"There really was not a long conversation," coach Jason Garrett said. "It was, 'I've got this information, I'm playing.' He made that determination. He had all of the facts in front of him and he went to work every week and battled and scratched and clawed and had a very positive impact on the game and a very positive impact on his teammates."

This year, Lawrence arrived fit and healthy in training camp, and he's been making plays all season.

He had at least one sack in each of the first seven games. Then, teams began giving him additional attention, using a tight end or running back to help their tackles. Sometimes, both on the same play.

He has two sacks in the past five games but remains a disruptive player with four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

But what separates Lawrence from most other big-time pass-rushers is the way he plays the run. He has 56 tackles, 34 solo, in addition to his big sack number.

"Look at how many sacks he gets on first and second down," defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. "That tells you he's playing the run and then transitioning to his pass rush and still getting to the quarterback."

Just so you know, 8.5 of Lawrence's 13 sacks have occurred on first or second down.

"This is not a one-dimensional system," Lawrence said earlier this week. "Playing for Rod, you have to be able to do everything in all areas."

"I have to set the edge to the defense, make it easier so your linebackers don't have to run all the way across the field, and also rush the passer. I feel like it's very important to do everything the right way in order to win games," he said.

It starts with playing the run with as much passion as he rushes the passer.

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