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Chris Whaley hopes Cowboys' time pays off

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IRVING, Texas -- Chris Whaley was back on a football field for the first time since November 2013, but Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli didn’t care.

After what the coach perceived to be a lackluster effort, he said, “I expect more out of you.”

Whaley understood.

“He always tells me I can move,” Whaley said. “He wants me to show it.”

Whaley spent last year as a spectator with the Cowboys, recovering from a serious knee injury suffered his senior year at Texas. As he rehabbed his knee, Whaley could only watch and listen. And rehab some more. And watch some more.

“With Coach Marinelli, everything is hard,” Whaley said. “He wants to push you to be great. Just sitting in the room seeing how he coaches those guys, I just learned you’ve got to go hard every day. He demands perfection.”

Whaley takes the field this week with the veterans for the start of organized team activities at Valley Ranch. Technically he is not a rookie but he feels like a rookie after the year off.

Before getting hurt, Whaley was on his way to being a draftable player. He scored touchdowns in two games. In his career, he had three sacks, four fumble recoveries, 11 tackles for loss and four pass deflections. He showed up at Texas as a running back, like Henry Melton, and left a defensive tackle, like Melton.

Maybe that’s what Marinelli sees. It’s what Whaley hopes to be, playing the same three-technique spot as Melton, who had five sacks last season for the Cowboys while coming back from a knee injury that kept him out of all but three games in 2013.

“That’s where I feel more comfortable, and that’s what Marinelli always talks about -- the under-tackle position,” Whaley said. “That’s the bread-winner right there. He feels confident about me playing that position, and that’s all I’ve played, so I’ve got to come out and show it.”

The Cowboys showed the most interest in Whaley before the 2014 draft, knowing he would need the redshirt season. Their interest paid off when Whaley decided to join the Cowboys over other suitors.

Tyrone Crawford is the starter at the under-tackle position, but there are possibilities as a backup. Whaley sees the chance and wants to repay the Cowboys for their patience.

“Me and my brother always talk about how they see something in me, they took the time out to give me a chance to sit out a year and get my knee right,” he said. “I’m very thankful for this opportunity, and I can’t let them down. I’ve got to come out and I’ve got to push and show them that they didn’t waste their time.”