OTA's are finally getting started this week which means that position battles and fights for roster spots are about to kick off.
Of course, the real battles won't be decided until Training Camp opens up in late July and the team has a chance to evaluate the players while they play actual football.
For a few Cowboys veterans, however, the battles have already begun.
Last week, I discussed the ever fading chances for Darren McFadden to make this roster and have an impact in 2016. McFadden is going to have to compete with the 4th overall pick in this years draft, a new free agent addition who is clearly the better scheme fit, and now another 6th round pick who seems to have all the youth, athleticism, and breakaway speed which McFadden lacks.
Well, if you think it looks bleak for McFadden, consider the situation that free safety JJ Wilcox is now in.
In a season which featured a whole lot of darkness for the Dallas Cowboys, rookie defensive back Byron Jones shined through with some light. He showed versatility, playing at both safety and cornerback when needed, and playing well at both positions.
Jones especially excelled at free safety, however, and is expected to make a push for the starting job this summer, and to eventually be the week 1 starter at the position.
This puts Wilcox on the outside looking in.
On the other side, Barry Church has been all but cemented into the strong safety role in Dallas, at least until the team can find an adequate replacement.
The Cowboys re-signed free safety, special teams contributor, and fan favorite Jeff Heath to a 4 year $7.6 million deal this offseason, and then drafted Central Michigan's Kavon Frazier in the sixth round.
With these moves comes more competition for Wilcox to face as he fights for any playing time he can find in 2016.
Starting 29 games over the last two seasons, fans have had to accept the bad that comes with Wilcox's good. Having only played safety one year during his time at Georgia Southern, the Cowboys knew that a steep learning curve was ahead of Wilcox when he entered the league.
The infamous bad pursuit angles, poor coverage at times, and overall inconsistent play from Wilcox has all been apart of that learning experience. But, entering his fourth season, the time for learning is over, and the time for performing has come.
What will Wilcox have to overcome to guarantee himself a spot on this roster?
Well, we know that Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are going to be there, leaving just rookie 6th round pick Kavon Frazier to be competed with.
I have already broken down some of Frazier's game during my "Draft Film Review" series, but to sum it up, I see potential in Frazier.
Frazier has NFL size as a rookie, and has the athleticism which could impress coaches that see an upside in him which they may think has passed Wilcox by.
But, Kavon Frazier will face a steep learning curve as well. He is still shaky in coverage at times, and tends to be overaggressive in the box, leaving receivers open downfield after he bites on the play action fake.
Similar to McFadden's battle with Darius Jackson, the team may decide that Wilcox's experience should win out over a sixth round pick with an athletic upside.
However, I think Frazier can contribute on Special Teams right away, and could very well turn into a contributor on defense in a year or two. The Cowboys may agree, and conclude that Frazier's upside is higher than Wilcox's perceived ceiling.
Who makes the team?
How about both? I think the Cowboys will keep Wilcox around to finish out the final year of his contract which expires at seasons-end. After that, who knows what Wilcox's future holds, as it is hard for me to imagine him being re-signed by the Cowboys unless he shows dramatic improvement this season.
The team has already locked up Heath for four more years, and Byron Jones isn't going anywhere. That doesn't leave a lot of room for Wilcox on this roster after 2016.
But, I expect Wilcox to contribute on Special Teams this season, and to see some time on defense in different packages and to spell Jones or Church.
In my estimation, Frazier will make the 53 man roster as well, but will be designated to the practice squad for most of the season. But, after Wilcox is gone, Frazier very well may be asked to fill his role in 2017 and beyond.
What do you think?
Is JJ Wilcox worth the Cowboys time? Do you think it is fair to expect an improvement in his game after having only four years playing the safety position?
Let's debate in the comment section.
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.
Jason Witten’s Lasting Message to Cowboys TE Rico Gathers
When Dallas Cowboys legend Jason Witten retired from the NFL last month, he left behind an unproven group of tight ends for the Cowboys to field as Witten moves on to the Monday Night Football broadcast booth. This is not a TE group short of potential, although that's nothing new for the laundry list of players that have failed at the position behind the Hall of Fame bound Witten.
Headlining this group of potential heirs to Witten has to be 2016 draft pick Rico Gathers. Not yet given the same opportunities that Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin are receiving through the Cowboys ongoing mini camp, Gathers has been criticized for his commitment to his team.
Looking to make the transition from the basketball court at Baylor to the football field, Gathers' journey began at Witten's soon-to-be home forever. Playing his first organized football game since middle school, Gathers and Witten were teammates in the Hall of Fame game at Canton, Ohio in 2017.
A game rarely leaving fans with a lasting memories, Gathers immediately flashed potential in the passing game, hauling in three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Gathers would go on to spend the season on IR after a concussion suffered in practice, recovering from it in time to return but never seeing the field.
This leaves Gathers' prospects of putting it all together in year three at a difficult crossroads. It will be hard to question Gathers' commitment moving forward, as the message from his former teammate Jason Witten still lives with him.
If Witten truly sees a "bright future" for Rico Gathers, who Head Coach Jason Garrett says needs work in the running game, there is no reason the Cowboys can't find a role for him this season. With an entirely unproven group of wide receivers, Gathers could be the reliable mismatch for Dak Prescott to target in the middle of the field.
Prescott was the ninth worst quarterback in the league last season in red zone completion percentage, surely something the 6'6" TE Gathers could help improve.
Gathers may be a long way off from becoming Prescott's version of Witten to Tony Romo, but there is still hope for the 2016 draft pick, according to now football analyst Jason Witten.
David Irving to be Present at Dallas Cowboys Minicamp
David Irving has been a notable name throughout the offseason for the Dallas Cowboys, for both on the field and off the field headlines. First, his RFA tender had fans and analysts wondering just what the Cowboys would do with him. Many, myself included, thought placing anything lower than a first-round tender on the stud defensive tackle would mean he was collecting sacks for someone else in 2018.
Thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys' gamble paid off and they were able to save some money by only having the second-round tender applied to 2018.
Then came the accusation of domestic violence from his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, catching us off-guard just before OTAs began in May. Which was then retracted not long after the initial report.
After all of that had quieted down, most of the talk revolved around David Irving not being in shape for OTAs. Not having been around for much of the offseason work the last several weeks before OTAs would keep Irving from working out.
He's had a lot going on in his life lately away from the game of football, and understandably so. As a father to a young child, I can see how you'd get distracted from your job when family stuff comes into play that affects the well-being of your child.
On the football side of things, at least, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Today, it's being reported that David Irving will in fact be present for this week's mandatory minicamp.
Also, the Cowboys expect DL David Irving to participate in the 3-day mandatory minicamp that begins today at The Star, a source said. The Cowboys could have both Irving and RG Zack Martin back on the practice field if Martin's contract extension gets finalized this morning.
You may be asking yourself, "what's the big deal? Irving isn't Aaron Donald."
Well, you're mostly right.
Perhaps next to Donald, David Irving was the most disruptive interior player in the NFL last season. David Irving had seven sacks in the eight games he played in.
Read that again. Seven sacks in eight games. That would be 14 sacks over the course of the season if that pace were to continue to play out.
Aaron Donald had 11 sacks in 2017.
Pro Football Focus rated David Irving as its third best pass rusher among interior defensive linemen.
Dominant interior defenders.
To go along with Irving's seven sacks in eight games -- every time I read that I'm floored -- he recorded six passes defended. That was good for second in the NFL at the defensive tackle position and was second on the Dallas Cowboys.
Again, in only eight games played.
Even if you were to pace out his tackle numbers over 16 games, they aren't very spectacular -- 26 solo and 18 assisted -- but he'd still finish in the top 30 among defensive tackles.
Only two other players in the NFL had seven or more sacks and six or more pass breakups; New Orleans Saints Defensive End Cameron Jordan and Cincinnati Bengals Defensive End Carlos Dunlap. Both of those guys played in all 16 games and, while I hate to keep bringing this up, Irving only played in eight.
He's an elite interior defender who has only gotten better since joining Rod Marinelli and the Dallas Cowboys.
If he's able to get his personal life in order -- and that most assuredly comes first -- he's going to be a wrecking ball for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line.
Getting Zack Martin's contract extension completed was probably the most important task of the summer, but getting David Irving back into the practice fold is a close second.
With him and DeMarcus Lawrence coming off a tremendous 2017, the sky is the limit for those two in 2018.
With all the improvement that was made on the defensive side of the ball, I can't help but think of the sign that Greg Hardy paid for several years ago.
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