Replacing Lawrence could be difficult


OXNARD, Calif. -- On the face of it, losing a rookie defensive lineman should not be that big of a deal for a team. But that's not necessarily the case with the Dallas Cowboys.

With DeMarcus Lawrence needing surgery to repair a broken right foot and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, according to sources, the Cowboys will likely see their most promising outside pass-rusher miss three-to-six regular-season games.

There is no doubt the Cowboys were counting on Lawrence to be a major player on their line. Maybe not to the tune of the 10 sacks he predicted for his rookie season, but enough to elevate the defense above the 34 sacks it recorded as a team in 2013.

Lawrence was working his way into a first-team fight with Jeremy Mincey to be the starting right defensive end. He was having some success and was showing a willingness to learn and work. The arrow, as Jerry Jones likes to say, was pointing up.

Lawrence's season is by no means over, but missing valuable practice time, valuable learning time and valuable conditioning time will hamper his development in his first season. The length of recovery varies with each player. In 2012, wide receiver Danny Coale, a fifth-round pick, suffered a similar injury and needed 10 weeks to recover and then spent the year on the practice squad. Others have come back quicker.

The nature of Lawrence's position offers different stress on his foot than a receiver. He is going against bigger and stronger offensive linemen and needs to anchor, putting pressure on his foot as he turns the corner to get to the quarterback.

Having patience is never an easy thing for coaches, who want players back as quick as possible, but the Cowboys have to move on. As with 31 other teams in the NFL, it's the next-man-up philosophy.

For the Cowboys, the next man up is a question.

Mincey will continue to start at right end, but Martez Wilson, who played in two games last season and had one quarterback pressure, moves up a spot in the rotation. Tyrone Crawford has had a solid start to camp but he is more of a left defensive end. Anthony Spencer is moving well, but he remains a long shot to play in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers as he works his way back from microfracture surgery.

The prospects available on the street do not necessarily inspire. The Cowboys visited with former San Diego Chargers first-round pick Larry English last week, but he is not yet healthy and does not appear to be an option.

Last year, the Cowboys were able to sign George Selvie a few days into training camp after Crawford tore his Achilles and Spencer battled a sore knee. He surprised everybody by starting 16 games and coming up with a career-high seven sacks.

The Cowboys got lucky with that acquisition. They might need to have similar luck again in 2014.