While the Cowboys have gotten a ton of flack for their lack of free agent additions, there are several current members of the team that can really help them in 2016. And while new players help, player development is key for year to year improvement.
There are 2 key components to getting the most out of these players:
- Figuring out a player's role so that you can maximize what you get out of them
- The player putting in the necessary work both mentally and physically to come back better than they were before
Some of these players will be thrust into bigger roles and others may just need to be given a chance.
Wide Receiver, Brice Butler
When the Cowboys traded for Butler a lot of people were wondering who the player was.
Butler is a freak athlete with the kind of size necessary to play outside wide receiver. He also brings a speed element that this team is so desperate for.
He battled injury after coming to the Cowboys, but when healthy he really flashed in an offense that lacked flash in a big way when led by Matt Cassel.
The intriguing thing is that Butler screams of a guy that Tony Romo can turn into something special. Like Romo did for guys like Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson, Butler seems like a guy who I can see becoming the key number 2 wide receiver for this team.
Seeing Butler work with Romo is one of the things I am most looking forward to for next season.
Defensive Tackle, David Irving
This one can also be huge for the Cowboys and unlike Ryan Russell, we have actually seen flashes from him in games during the 2015 season. The Cowboys poached Irving off of the Chiefs practice squad after their week 3 game versus the Atlanta Falcons.
Irving flashed several times throughout the season by being a real nuisance for opposing teams when on the field. His size and athleticism are particularly noteworthy as he stands 6'7" tall and ran a 4.84 40-yard-dash with a 1.69 10-yard-split, which is really good.
David Irving didn't play a single game at Iowa State during the 2014 season prior to being drafted. Irving was dismissed from the team after committing fifth-degree theft, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief. He was also suspended for a game in 2013 for domestic assault, charges that were later dismissed.
Irving's off the field concerns are what led to him going undrafted. The one critique of him from a football standpoint was that he lacked the bulk to play as an interior defensive lineman. In his time with the Cowboys he has used his length and athleticism to make plays both as an interior defensive lineman and off the edge.
Defensive End, Ryan Russell
Perhaps the most important player on this list, Russell will have to play a much bigger role in 2016 than he did in 2015.
It is no secret that the Cowboys value Russell's talent. Throughout training camp Rod Marinelli really ripped into Russell. It became obvious that Marinelli was being extremely hard on him and you have to think that is because he really sees something there.
Russell flashed in college when used as a 4-3 defensive end. When they changed schemes at Purdue that is where Russell's stock fell, but not far enough for him to last past the fifth round where the Cowboys took him.
When watching 2012 Purdue film several scouts noted how Russell caught their attention while watching Kawann Short and Ryan Kerrigan on that same line who are now stars on the NFL level.
If Rod Marinelli can get Russell back to his form from 2012, back at defensive end, he can play a major role at the thinnest position on the Cowboys roster.
Wide Receiver/Returner, Lucky Whitehead
It took a while for the Cowboys to completely trust Whitehead to return punts. Once he was given the chance he made a real impact back there. He was also used a lot more on offense in a role similar to how Dwayne Harris was used. Whitehead was used primarily for jet sweeps, sometimes taking the ball on a hand off and other times just as a decoy.
Where I think you can really get something out of Whitehead going forward is by actually using him as a receiver instead of making him strictly a gadget player.
While there is a lot you can get out of him by faking hand-offs or actually letting him run the ball, I'd like them to let him go out for passes, particularly the deep pass. Whitehead can be used for screens as well, but I think it is fairly obvious that when the ball is in his hands he can make big plays.
Linebacker, Damien Wilson
We didn't get to see much of Wilson throughout the season. He is probably most known for being the guy that was burned by C.J. Spiller in overtime against the New Orleans Saints.
However, Wilson is a really talented player that I'd love to see get a chance for some playing time.
Wilson seems most like a weak-side linebacker and Sean Lee has that locked down, but he can also play some middle linebacker if necessary.
I in no way want to see a situation where Wilson has to get a large portion of snaps, but I'd also like to see him take a step from year one to year two. If Wilson can take that step, I'd feel really good knowing behind Sean Lee at Will and Rolando McClain at Mike, I'd have Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens.
5 Cowboys With Huge Potential In 2016
With the exception of Brice Butler, these are all going to be second year players. As I have laid out before, the Cowboys of late have had a real issue drafting or developing players taken after the second-third round.
With the development of these young and talented players, these can turn into at worst good role players. With real development both from the coaching staff and the players themselves, these can be players who play major roles for this team in 2016.
David Irving and Ryan Russell may come with more expectation than the others due to the need at the position. The Cowboys may actually be counting on them to be major players in 2016 and they obviously know much more than the public about where these players are in their development.
The fact of the matter is that these are all players that have the potential to become something in this league. Will the coaching staff find a way to make it work? Will the players do what is necessary to take themselves to the next level?
Which Cowboys Benefit From David Irving’s Suspension?
While losing David Irving for the first four weeks of 2018 is a bad thing for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line, it does create opportunities for some of the other defensive tackles. Who has the most to gain from Irving's suspension?
Because he was mostly going to be used inside as the 3-technique DT, David's absence will naturally benefit the guys who are best suited to play that role. Thankfully, Dallas isn't lacking for those types of players.
Veteran Tyrone Crawford can use all the playing time he can get. As a likely salary cap casualty next year, Crawford doesn't want to get buried on the depth chart as Dallas focuses on their younger players who project to stick around beyond 2018.
With Irving out, Dallas will likely lean on Tyrone as they often do when someone is missing on the defensive line. With more talent now at defensive end, Crawford was going to be competing with Irving, Maliek Collins, Jihad Ward, and other younger guys for work at tackle.
But now there's a problem, and it's easy to slide Crawford into the 3-tech role that Dallas once envisioned him being a star at. Remember, it was their projection of Tyrone as a breakout DT that got him his big contract to begin with.
Yes, Irving's only gone for four weeks. Dallas will still be giving him work in camp based on the role he should fill for the majority of the season. But that's why a veteran like Tyrone Crawford is a great temporary plug-in, because he doesn't need all of the practice reps to step in and perform.
Another key beneficiary could be third-year DT Maliek Collins. Last season, Collins got stuck playing 1-technique and not getting the same opportunities to make plays and get noticed that he had his rookie year.
But now Dallas has several guys in Jihad Ward, Richard Ash, and Brian Price who can play the 1-tech role, which will hopefully get Collins back where he belongs. Maliek's athleticism belongs a little further away from center, letting him try to take on guards in single coverage.
Collins is dealing with a foot issue now but should be back for the preseason. That's enough time for him to be where he needs to be Week One, provided he's healthy.
How Dallas would balance playing time between Collins and Tyrone Crawford could be a matter of how much they play certain schemes. One could see Collins, the bigger guy, playing more in the base defense and then Crawford being used in passing situations.
There is always a lot of rotation in a Rod Marinelli line, so discussions about playing time can get a little silly. Unless you're a true stud like DeMarcus Lawrence who you don't want to take off the field, the Cowboys like to keep guys fresh.
But that's why this is a big opportunity; David Irving has that stud potential. He's the kind of talent who could keep solid players like Crawford and Collins out of view if he hits his stride.
For the first four weeks, though, Irving will be in the NFL doghouse and Dallas will likely lean on its two most experienced defensive tackles to fill the void. There will be more reps for guys like Datone Jones and Jihad Ward too, but Crawford and Collins have way more skins on the wall
That trust should keep them on the field more while David Irving's suspended, and perhaps beyond.
BREAKING: David Irving Suspended For 2nd Consecutive Year
For the second consecutive year, Defensive Lineman David Irving is being suspended for four games by the NFL. This time, the suspension comes after Irving violated the NFL's policy on substance of abuses, as Ian Rapoport reported.
Cowboys DL David Irving is being suspended 4 games for violating @NFL policy on substance of abuses, sources say. Another big-time D-linemen hit with a suspension for Dallas.
Irving will play for the Dallas Cowboys after the team placed a second-round tender on him earlier in the year. Why no team was interested in picking such a talented defensive tackle for a second round pick is becoming clearer and clearer as the time goes on.
In April, when David Irving got hacked by his former girlfriend one of the tweets that stood out the most was one which said "Wait until you all find about his failed drug tests." Now, we're seeing what the tweet was about.
Irving is a very talented player that could have a great career ahead of him. Of course, with this being the second consecutive year in which he receives a suspension to start the season, one could question how much he wants it.
The Cowboys will play the Panthers, Giants, Seahawks and Lions to start the season. They'll have to do it with one of their most promising defensive players in David Irving.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll keep you updated with this story and every Dallas Cowboys news.
Cowboys Offense Finds Rhythm to End Minicamp, Hurns and Gallup Stand Out
The Dallas Cowboys are back in offseason mode, concluding their OTAs and minicamp from The Star. With a hiatus until training camp, it was important for several high-profile players to make a strong first impression on the 2018 season. From the start of mini camp, these impressions were left mostly by Rod Marinelli's defense and -- more specifically -- Kris Richard's young group of cornerbacks.
Still working through significant change on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys did rally on day three under Quarterback Dak Prescott to put out a better performance. The Cowboys coaching staff should love their lasting memories of both FA acquisition Wide Receiver Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup.
There is a strong chance that these two receivers will be the Cowboys starters in Oxnard for training camp. We have heard a lot about the impact new WR Coach Sanjay Lal has had on his group, slowing the game down to focus on route running. This will give the team's rotation of unproven receivers a chance with Prescott, as he can focus on throwing to a 'spot' more often.
One spot that Prescott has struggled to hit in two seasons as the starter in Dallas is the back of the end zone for fade routes. A red zone go-to under Scott Linehan, free agent WR Dez Bryant was often the intended target on these missed passes.
Less of a route running technician and closer to the mold of a physical player like Bryant, Allen Hurns emerging as the Cowboys #1 option would solve a lot of uncertainty at the WR position. In yesterday's practice, Hurns was able to haul in a perfect ball from Prescott on the fade as he beat Byron Jones.
It's going to take some time for Jones to readjust to playing cornerback, but the vision for Kris Richard of him and Chidobe Awuzie starting on the outside is a great one. In a battle of proven players, Hurns got the best of Jones to spark the Cowboys offense at the right time.
Overall, there should be no reason to panic about (well, really anything from mini camp) the Cowboys offense right now, and plenty of reasons to be excited about what this defense will develop into.
Once the pads come on at training camp, the players the Cowboys are paying to play at an elite level will start to shine, including their newly re-signed Guard Zack Martin -- the highest paid guard in the league now. There are no doubts that the bread and butter for this offense will be handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott behind this wall of an offensive line.
From this increase in competition in the trenches, we'll also get more meaningful battles along the defensive line. In shorts and helmets for now, the Cowboys secondary was given their chance at mini camp, and came out solid early.
Another player they've struggled to truly corral though is Michael Gallup. Perhaps pressing a bit thanks to his limited opportunities thus far, Jourdan Lewis was taken across the field by Gallup on a misfire from Cooper Rush.
This is nothing new for Gallup however, who's been ahead of the curve on creating the desired separation as a "violent" receiver on the outside.
A steal with the 81st overall pick in this year's draft, Gallup has a long way to go in beating out the likes of Terrance Williams, Cedrick Wilson (limited through this portion of the offseason with injuries), and even Cole Beasley, who's received some reps on the outside.
With both Hurns and Gallup making plays on the Cowboys final practice until late July, it's easy to let the mind wander with possibilities of the Cowboys offense playing at full strength against a defense that might be up for the challenge better than ever compared to year's past.
As always, the practice fields of Oxnard will serve as a battle ground for a young but deep Cowboys team to earn their spots on the 53-man roster, one that surely won't have room for all of the wide receiver hopefuls seen this week in mini camp.
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