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Stephen Paea pushing for starting NT job with Cowboys

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 23: Stephen Paea #92 of the Chicago Bears leaves the field after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 23, 2014 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

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Stephen Paea was miscast in a 3-4 defense the past two seasons. He’s back at a familiar spot with the Cowboys, reunited with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and playing the nose in the Tampa 2.

Just be aggressive in there,” Paea said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “A lot of guys they think of a nose tackle, they’re just there playing with your hands and just playing the run, but Rod just wants more out of the nose tackle. If you don’t pass rush as a nose, then you’re not doing your job, so that’s what he wants from the nose tackle.”

The Cowboys’ biggest offseason signing in 2016 was Cedric Thornton, who left Philadelphia for Dallas’ four-year, $18 million offer. He started no games, played in 13, had 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks and nine quarterback pressures last season.

Terrell McClain started 15 games at the nose last season, and after he left in free agency, the Cowboys signed Paea, who played for Marinelli in Chicago after the Bears made him a second-round pick in 2011.

Paea missed the team’s preseason game against the Rams last week with a sore knee but will play Saturday against the Colts, and with Thornton dealing with a hamstring injury, Paea has taken first-team reps.

“We all have that next-man mentality,” Paea said. “I’m out here just taking advantage of all opportunity for me to compete out here.

“Going out here against the best offensive line in the NFL is a great opportunity for me to get better -- make Sunday a little easier for me.”