SportsPulse: Our very own Cowboys insider Jori Epstein sat down with former Cowboys great DeMarcus Ware to get his thoughts on Dak Prescott’s lingering contract negotiations and what advice he’d give him dealing with Jerry Jones.


The Cowboys are hoping Roger Goodell will provide some help to their defensive line.

Defensive ends Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory could join the Cowboys’ 90-man roster should either win his reinstatement battle from suspension. Smith appears closer to a return, 10 months clean with his reinstatement application already filed, a person with knowledge of the process confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person was granted anonymity due to the sensitive nature of suspension appeals.

But how could either defender best regain form after years—two for Gregory, five for Smith—away from the game?

Nine-time Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware has advice.

“It’s a challenge because the game gets faster every single year,” Ware told USA TODAY Sports by phone Wednesday, speaking in conjunction with USAA’s Memorial Day campaign. But “I’m really not thinking about the plays. The plays, they’re always easy to learn. It’s just repetition.

“I would think about hand and eye coordination, I would be doing as many drills as possible to get my body acclimated into moving constantly – which, that’s not normal for the normal person. I would actually put my pads on and put my helmet on.”

The training need not wait for facilities to reopen from COVID-19 closures.

“There’s equal opportunity in grass right outside your house,” Ware said. “You put your cleats on, I feel like you’re on the football field, you just draw a couple lines. I would do those things over and over and over again until my body gets very, very well-conditioned. I feel like if you’re conditioned, you don’t have as many injuries, you’re not focused on if you’re tired or not. I would really just tell those guys: Focus on hand/eye coordination, your cardio and making sure you’re well-conditioned.”

Ware looks to Smith’s production before substance-abuse policy violations derailed his NFL career. Smith amassed 47 1/2 sacks and 180 tackles in five years, including 33 1/2 in his first two seasons—an NFL record for the first two years of a player’s career. Smith, who also pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges as part of a 2018 domestic violence case, hasn’t played a snap since November 2015. But his 2011 season, when he notched 14 sacks as a rookie, came on the heels of the NFL’s lockout.

Smith will need that ability to regroup quickly after time away. He’ll benefit from a reunion with Jim Tomsula, who coached Smith four years in San Francisco and was hired the Cowboys’ defensive line coach in January. The Cowboys, along with all teams whose coaching staff turned over this offseason, haven’t yet been able to implement new schemes in person.

But Ware likes what he’s hearing about defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s plans, and how they will cater to the skills of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, as well as Smith or Gregory should either return. The Cowboys have said Nolan’s defense will maintain a 4-3 base but scheme more specifically to their opponent. That could include snaps out of 3-4 looks and opportunities for designated pass rushers, be it from the Cowboys’ group of linemen or a linebacker, like Jaylon Smith, who has rushing experience.

Ware understands how best to rethink techniques after shifting from Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme to the Broncos’ 3-4 when he left Dallas for Denver ahead of the 2014 season. He said he’s discussed the differences with Lawrence.

“[Marinelli’s scheme was] more about coverage and the four guys getting to the quarterback,” Ware said. “Now you’ve got a whole new person coming in and the 3-4 defense is all predicated on getting pressure, pushing the pocket up the middle, stopping the run, bringing the outside linebackers to create those turnovers.

“That’s why DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory can excel in this defense, because you might get a tight end. You might have to be on a running back because there’s five guys rushing now instead of four, but they can interchange those guys. And that’s what makes it hard on those offenses because they can’t block you.”

Ware said he anticipates working on technique with Lawrence, and possibly Smith and Gregory, once it’s safer to gather. In the meanwhile, he’s partnering with USAA on Monday to emphasize the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day—Memorial Day is for the fallen, Ware reminds—and join their Poppy in Memory campaign.

But he’ll be ready for Lawrence when the time is right.

“With this hybrid-type defense and talking to DeMarcus Lawrence, he’s ready to, ‘Hey, DeMarcus can you maybe come by and show me how to stand up?’ That made me smile. I’ll teach him a little bit of the outside linebacker position.

“Knowing they’re going to be a little more hybrid style, I think is really going to benefit them.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein


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