IRVING, Texas -- Tyrone Crawford's first year in the NFL went about as well as the former Bakersfield College standout could have expected.
Crawford made 20 tackles in 16 games. But the 25-year-old defensive end is looking to have an even bigger impact this season.
"I'm really comfortable with this defensive scheme," he said at the team's recent mini-camp. "I've gotten better and more comfortable just being in the game and just playing in the NFL. "But I still have a long ways to go. I feel good about going into this year. I like the scheme, like the players that I'm playing beside. I'm super excited."
Crawford is glad he's no longer a rookie, which means no more carrying shoulder pads, ball bags or getting food for the veterans in his position group on travel days and during meetings.
"I'm happy. I knew what I was getting into and that was part of the history of the NFL. It's definitely an experience, something to learn, but I'm definitely happy I don't have to do it anymore," he said.
Crawford, who played at Bakersfield College in 2008 and 2009, is now playing in a 4-3 defensive alignment under new coordinator Monte Kiffin. Dallas lined up in a 3-4 last year under Rob Ryan, who was fired in the off-season and is now with New Orleans.
And while learning a new scheme is a big adjustment, having someone like Kiffin, who even at age 73 brings passion to practices and meetings, has helped make that transition easier.
"It was a little unexpected, the way that he comes out to practice. He brings a lot of energy and in the meeting room he brings a lot of energy," Crawford said. "That shows a lot, shows that he wants it just as bad as we do. He's serious when he needs to be serious, but he has a few jokes up his sleeve too. He's a great guy, great coach and we're all excited to play for him."
However, Kiffin isn't the only new coach this young defensive end is now working with.
Dallas also hired former Detroit head coach Rod Marinelli to serve as the Cowboys' defensive line coach and the NFL veteran has nothing but good things to say about his second-year end.
"He's a good, young, athletic player. He's got really nice movement. Now it's just about repetition," Marinelli said during OTAs (Organized Team Activities). "It's just about coming in and the day-to-day grind right now.
"It's just the day-to-day grind in terms of fundamentals and doing what we're supposed to do. Guy's got talent and ... now it's the grind."
Crawford was picked in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cowboys and although it's been nearly four years since he last played at Bakersfield College, he definitely realizes it was his time there, where the former three-sport athlete at his Canadian high school decided to focus exclusively on playing defensive end.
And after two solid years in Bakersfield and two more at Boise State, he found himself in the NFL and continues to live his dream of playing professional football.
"I was thinking I was going to be a tight end and maybe play in the CFL as a tight end or something coming out of high school," Crawford recalled.
"And when I got the opportunity to play in junior college, I learned a whole bunch about just playing defensive line and just football in general. It was a huge life experience for me, too. Bakersfield College was a big thing for me."
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.