While the Cowboys have had the luxury of stability and health across their offensive line over the past few seasons, the departure of Ronald Leary and retirement of Doug Free add a few question marks to the Dallas depth up-front.
To help secure their tackle depth, the Cowboys signed former Panthers and Titans offensive lineman Byron Bell for the 2017 season.
Though he missed the 2016 season after suffering an ankle injury during OTA's, Bell started 72 games over his first five seasons in the NFL, most coming with the Carolina Panthers. Bell was last seen starting all 16 games for the Titans in 2015, playing both left and right tackle, as well as guard.
So far in his career, Byron Bell has been the recipient of much criticism. When forced to play left tackle in 2014, Bell was ranked as the second-to-worst left tackle in football by Pro Football Focus. To be fair, Bell was never expected to play left tackle, and didn't really fit the position at all. When asked to play right tackle or guard, Bell performed much better.
The 6'5" 340 pound tackle showed the versatility to play both inside and out for the Titans in 2015, but to be quite honest, he wasn't too spectacular at either position. With his big, imposing frame, you would hope that he would possess strong hands, and be able to drive defenders off the ball while being a mauler in the run game.
However, Bell displayed both pad level and contact balance issues which hindered his ability to pass and run block.
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At left guard here, Bell gets beat with a bull rush right from the snap. He must stay stronger with his post foot, and sink his hips to counter the bull. At 340 pounds, Bell must be able to anchor better and stop his momentum from falling backwards.
This issues with pad level, stiff hips, and dying feet were consistent throughout the games I studied on Bell.
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This time on a draw play, Bell's technique is almost all bad. He does a good job of shielding the defensive tackle and giving the running back a two-way go, but his stiffness and pad level are alarming.
Bell is nearly standing straight up here, and does not run his feet whatsoever. He absolutely must improve on plays like these if he is to have any impact for the Cowboys.
As you might expect for a man of Byron Bell's size, he is not the most fluid athlete. On film he struggled a few times with defensive linemen crossing his face. I also have to question how well he can block in space and get to the second level, something that could be an issue in a zone blocking scheme.
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I know that by now, you're probably wondering why the Cowboys would sign a guy that I've had almost nothing nice to say about.
So let me get into some of these positives.
The very fact that Bell can play at both guard and tackle is important. We always talk about how the Cowboys love defensive linemen who can move around the line and rotate throughout the positions. Well, that is important for backup offensive linemen as well.
While he struggled with bull rushes and needs to do a better job sinking his hips and delivering a punch, Bell showed the ability to kick set versus just about any alignment from the tackle position. He needs to play better through contact, but he has shown that he can get back to the point of intersection and be in position.
Bell also worked well with double teams, getting movement on the down lineman and clouding the linebacker's field of vision. This ability will be important as the Cowboys use deuce blocks often.
When the announcement was made that Byron Bell was coming to Dallas, many immediately speculated that he could compete for the starting right tackle job. At this moment, however, I don't believe he is a better option that former third rounder Chaz Green.
In the limited time that we were able to see Green, he showed that he can be a solid contributor along the offensive line as soon as next season.
To me, Byron Bell provides good depth behind both Green and Emmett Cleary, and could compete for the swing tackle position. His versatility, size, and athleticism for his size are all positives, and while his game is a bit raw, he can fill in if needed due to injury. I actually like him more inside, and he could be competing with Jonathan Cooper for a backup guard spot.
Overall, I like the signing of Byron Bell. He isn't going to be an All-Pro tackle, but he doesn't need to be either. For a swing tackle on a one year deal, Byron Bell is well worth the risk for the Dallas Cowboys.
Can Jaylon Smith Challenge Vander Esch For Starting MIKE Role?
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world basically assumed he would be the starting MIKE linebacker week one of the upcoming season.
After all, the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and none of the injury replacements had much success during the 2017 season.
Now just a couple of months shy of that week one match up with the Carolina Panthers, a battle for that middle linebacker spot appears to be occurring.
Former 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith has seemed to find his health, and his movement skills and agility look like they did back when he was at Notre Dame. Whether or not these offseason hype videos will actually mean anything on the field remains to be seen, but just the fact that Smith is working out and playing without the knee brace is obviously a good sign.
Unlike Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith did play for the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. Sure Smith had his share of growing pains, but he seemed to find his groove late in the season. It probably isn't a coincidence, though, that Smith's best games came when coming off the bench in a limited role and when playing beside veteran Sean Lee.
During the offseason activity thus far Jaylon Smith has gotten the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but Vander Esch has also been sidelined with an injured ankle. Leighton Vander Esch clearly fits the mold of a MIKE both physically and athletically, but at his best Jaylon Smith does as well.
Despite the resurgence of Jaylon Smith and the injury to Leighton Vander Esch, I still do expect Vander Esch to snag that MIKE role moving forward. While showing glimpses of productive play, Smith did not impress enough to earn him the unquestioned starting job last season, and may best fit as a SAM backer and situational pass rusher/blitzer in the current scheme.
Allowing Jaylon Smith to conserve his energy and provide a boost off the bench is the best way for the Cowboys to structure their defense. Of course, this is only true as long as Vander Esch becomes the player they expect him to be, though.
If Jaylon Smith does return to the player he was at Notre Dame prior to his horrific injury, the Cowboys will possess three incredibly rangy, athletic, and talented linebackers on their roster.
Of course, that if is a very big if at this point, however.
Will Cowboys’ Performance VS NFC South Define 2018 Season?
When thinking about how the Cowboys' 2017 season came to an end the day before Christmas after a disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, we often forget the team needed some extra help in order to get to the playoffs. The NFC was a tough conference to play in last year... but it will only be tougher in 2018.
The NFC is way stronger than the AFC right now, at least in terms of depth.
The Cowboys will be sharing a division with the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that only got stronger this offseason and will try to make a run for the NFC East title once again.
As good and promising as the Cowboys' roster is, it's only fair to admit that trying to get to the postseason this year might implicate running for a wildcard spot. Many teams will be fighting for a playoff berth late in the year but fortunately for Dallas, they will be able to control their destiny against a handful of this teams.
The Cowboys will play against the entire NFC South this season. Except for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, every team in the South division was fighting for a chance at January football heading into week 17.
The Saints, Falcons and Panthers all finished the season with double-digit wins last year, and there's little reason to believe they won't come back as strong as they were in 2017.
If the Cowboys are not able to beat the Eagles in the NFC East race, we'll be hearing about a lot of different playoff scenarios that will be needed in order to play in the postseason. Certainly, having the head-to-head advantage against the NFC South teams would go a long way, even if the team will play the Saints, Falcons and Panthers before December comes around.
If the Cowboys do manage to get back to their 2016-selves, no team in the league should be an "impossible" challenge for a powerful running-game based offense and a defense that can rush the passer consistently.
Of course, the NFC South is not the only challenging division in the conference. The NFC West will feature another three football teams that will be winning tons of games. The Rams, 49ers and Seahawks are all very likely to have winning records and be in the hunt once December comes around.
In a season that promises to be a "comeback" year for America's Team, the NFC promises to be a threatening conference from every direction. If the Cowboys will be able to overcome or not remains unknown and will stay that way until the season actually starts.
Cowboys en Español: 3 Escenarios Para el Futuro de David Irving
En la NFL, la falta de noticias en Junio generalmente significa buenas noticias. Los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys saben esto mejor que nadie y en caso de que lo hayan olvidado, David Irving se aseguró de recordarle a Cowboys Nation el porque de esta frase.
La semana pasada, se anunció que David Irving recibirá una suspensión de cuatro partidos por haber violado la política de abuso de substancias de la liga. Es la segunda suspensión que Irving recibe en años consecutivos y lógicamente, esto es preocupante para el equipo de los Dallas Cowboys.
Las últimas dos temporadas hemos visto a Irving convertirse en una pieza de suma importancia para la defensiva. El año pasado, Irving consiguió siete sacks (capturas) en sólo ocho juegos y se convirtió en un caza cabezas muy efectivo.
Demostrando ser uno de los jugadores más talentosos de su posición en la NFL, es difícil imaginar el futuro del #95 en la liga. Tras recibir un tender de segunda ronda hace unos meses (explico que es eso aquí), el futuro de Irving es muy incierto. Por eso, esta semana en Cowboys en Español, exploraremos tres escenarios posibles para el defensivo de 24 años.
#1 David Irving se va de Dallas prematuramente
Hace unos días, me dediqué a defender mi posición de que los Cowboys estarían cometiendo un error al cortar a David Irving. A pesar de que realmente despedirse de un defensivo como Irving parece muy poco probable, es un escenario que debemos discutir.
Irving ha sido un dolor de cabeza para el equipo en más de una ocasión. Dos suspensiones en años consecutivos no es una buena imagen para un jugador que busca un contrato jugoso al terminar el año.
Si Jason Garrett y la administración quieren "dar un mensaje" cortando a David Irving, ¿qué tanto serviría? Esta idea de enviar un mensaje, a la hora de pensarlo fríamente, parece una idea romántica de parte de nosotros los fans. Al final de cuentas, estamos hablando de un locker room lleno de jugadores adultos y profesionales, no de un grupo de niños.
Además, bien sabemos todos que Irving no es el único Cowboy que ha tenido problemas. ¿Será el hecho de que ha ocurrido dos años seguidos razón suficiente para dejarlo ir? Personalmente, no lo creo. Los Cowboys dejarían ir a un jugador muy bueno en una posición de necesidad.
Datone Jones, Jihad Ward y Maliek Collins podrán ser suficiente. Pero David Irving es especial en el campo. Mejor tenerlo por 12 juegos a tenerlo cero.
#2 Irving se queda para el 2018, pero no más allá
David Irving recibió un contrato de un año que le pagaba (antes de ser suspendido) 2.91 millones de dólares. Si hubiera demostrado que no era problemático y que podía mantenerse al 100% toda la temporada, probablemente hubiera recibido un gran contrato de los Cowboys o de otro equipo en la NFL.
Sin embargo, el dicho lo dice todo. "En la NFL, la disponibilidad es la mejor habilidad." Irving no se ha terminado de ganar la confianza necesaria para una gran extensión.
En este punto, Dallas puede esperar a que su tackle defensivo regrese de su suspensión, juegue doce juegos con ellos y les consiga un sack por juego por menos de tres millones de dólares. Después de eso, el equipo pude darse el lujo de dejarlo ir sin una extensión y verlo convertirse en un agente libre.
#3 Irving se queda por más de un año
En este caso, hay dos "sub-escenarios." Suponiendo que, efectivamente, Irving regresa y juega como sabemos que puede hacerlo, no será tan fácil dejarlo ir. Si llega a sorprender y demuestra que realmente es quien creemos que es y consigue diez capturas en sólo doce juegos, ¿realmente no le dará el equipo una oportunidad?
La primera opción sería asignarle la etiqueta franquicia y obligarlo a jugar un año más para un equipo que busca desesperadamente un Super Bowl.
Si se sienten cómodos dándole el salario de una etiqueta franquicia para evitar perderlo, ¿podríamos culparlos después de que les dio por ejemplo, diez capturas? Yo, personalmente, no podría hacerlo.
La otra opción, y una que podría ser la más realista, es más simple. La inmadurez y los problemas de Irving le costarán la confianza y el interés de otros equipos y es posible que en un punto, Dallas sea el único equipo que le pueda brindar seguridad de trabajo.
De esta manera, Dallas podría ofrecerle una extensión de dos, tres o más años a un precio mucho más barato que el de cualquier DT que consiga dos dígitos de sacks.
David Irving sin duda tiene un futuro incierto delante de él. Realmente sería una sorpresa verlo fuera de Dallas en el 2018, pero más allá, quien sabe lo que pueda pasar. Por ahora, esperemos que una vez que vuelva de la suspensión, esté en forma para ir detrás de los quarterbacks oponentes.
Con un poco de suerte, quizá nos olvidaremos de esto en Noviembre.
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