Things are coming along as planned for DeMarcus Lawrence, after the veteran pass rusher underwent a minor procedure on his back this offseason. Lawrence started Dallas Cowboys training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers but, less than two weeks later, he's now been activated and is eligible to return to practice. He won't be fully unleashed just yet though, considering the Cowboys have four preseason games instead of three (and, as such, an extra week of camp), and sources tell CBS Sports the expectation remains that he'll return in full swing following the Aug. 13 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
"I feel like I'm in phase three of the rehab of four phases," Lawrence told media on Tuesday. "And I feel like I'm progressing real well. I had a little clean up in the offseason, and it's all about getting the legs back and in tact with this field, working myself in with the boys."
So what was the procedure for, specifically?
"Ligament problems," said Lawrence. "Got the back flaring up, inflaming, so, I mean, it would shoot down the leg. I had those problems, but got the clean up. Feeling great now.
"So, it's all about progressing and staying that way. I was actually feeling it during the season, but I banged my knee one game. So, I thought it was knee problems. But once I got my back checked, I seen I had some messed up stuff back there and they had to clean it up and all of that."
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This most recent back procedure marks the third in Lawrence's pro career, but he's been known to have strong outings following them. He underwent a more serious surgery on his back in 2016, and after being forced into a four-game suspension by the NFL the following season that forced him into a down year, he bounced back in 2017 with a career-high 14.5 sacks -- adding another 10.5 sacks in 2018. What he had cleaned up this offseason isn't the same as what it was in yesteryear, Lawrence explains, which makes it much easier to get back to where he needs to be physically.
"Well, I mean, it's different this time because it's not a bulging disc," Lawrence said. "It's just a herniation. So, you just got to clean the herniation out, sew it back up, and you're good to go. But it's all about, especially eight years in the league, and it's my understanding the game. It's about working smart, plus hard, and not working hard and dumb.
"So, being able to get my feet back underneath me and work myself back in with the boys, I feel like I'm in a good spot."
The aforementioned double-digit sack seasons are the only two on Lawrence's resume as a pro, however, and while he's still one of the best run defenders in the league and has one of the highest QB pressure rates around -- despite often drawing double and, at times, triple teams from opposing offenses -- he's often finding himself inches away from having sacks that instead don't.
And that bothers him to no end.
"Most definitely," admitted Lawrence when asked if he wants to get his sack tally back to career-best numbers. "Just being out there and not producing the way you can and you know you should hurts a lot. ... Being able to have a D-coordinator that's bringing that swagger back to the defense, having us go forward, attack people, and get off the rock, it will complement my game a lot."
The coordinator in question is Dan Quinn, who enters after a one-year debacle for the Cowboys with Mike Nolan and sidekick Jim Tomsula (former defensive line coach). Lawrence has taken to Quinn's teaching methods and new defensive installations very well, and the two seem very much in simpatico for the coming season. So it's not only that his back feels great again that fuels his belief in what's to potentially come this season from both him as an individual and the defense as a whole, but also the presence of Quinn and a scheme Lawrence can wholeheartedly vibe with.
"Oh, man, it's love being able to go straight forward, attack people, and play relentless defense, and being able to have everybody on the same page," he said. "Everybody [is] loving the formula that DQ [Dan Quinn] is putting in. Shoot, just getting prepared and ready to go.
"... Dan is bringing the swagger back. That's what we need in this place: swagger. That pep in our step and that swagger with our movement. So, I feel like Dan is doing a good job bringing that formula back."
And as for personal motivation, the two-time Pro Bowler says his already cup runneth over.
"Shoot, it's already there," he made clear to reporters. "You can see how these boys come out and play each and every day at training camp. We're talking about training camp. We're talking about training.
"So, being able to push yourself, being able to move with each other at that type of tempo day in and day out, I feel like the proof is in the pudding. As long as we keep going that type of way about things, we'll prove a lot this year."
With Brady awaiting them in Week 1, their first test will feel a lot like a final exam.