We are now full well in the middle of the first week of NFL Preseason action! Since all of the coaches, players, and other team officials use the preseason as a practice I have been deciding to do so as well.
I practiced grilling. I may or may not have set fire to my shoes, but that’s what practice is for. I also practiced my ritual of eating a minimum of four pounds of queso during the game and you know what, I feel fantastic!
With the real deal getting ready to go down in 29 days we all have some skill-sharpening to do. To help me with that I’m going to walk you further down our Countdown To Kickoff series, and today we are discussing the Greatest 29 in Dallas Cowboys History.
The Following Players Have All Worn 29 For The Dallas Cowboys:
I pride myself on a few things in life. There’s my coin collection that my grandfather helped me start when I was about 12 years old, I’ve also got to count the perfect way that my hair parts, and then there’s what I consider to be my high level of objectivity.
That last one is going to come in handy today. Today’s featured player put together quite the resume in four years under the star before he traded it in for a pair of wings. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you… The Greatest 29 in Dallas Cowboys History.
The Oklahoma Sooner from Sin City made his way to Dallas during the 2011 NFL Draft. With Felix Jones on the roster the Cowboys needed to find the future at the running back position. In the third round the Cowboys called his number and a star was born.
2011: Rookie Wonder
Murray wasn’t just looking up the depth chart at Felix Jones, former fan favorite Tashard Choice was firmly entrenched in the second string role. When Felix went down against the New England Patriots, the door swung open for #29.
Tashard Choice was named the starting running back when the Cowboys squared off against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7. While that may technically be true, Murray stole the show. Early in the first quarter he busted loose 91 yards, the second longest run in franchise history, for the score… and caused my cousin Jeremy, whom I was playing that week in fantasy with Murray at my disposal, to utterly lose it.
He would go on to set the Dallas Cowboys single-game record for most rushing yards in a game with 253. Welcome to the NFL, kid.
Turning Into A Pro Bowler
2012 has been the least productive year of DeMarco Murray’s career to date. He only played in, and started, 10 games… accumulating just 663 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. He missed 6 games and began to develop an injury-prone persona.
The other trend that started to become known with Murray was that when he carried the ball 20+ times, the Cowboys won. This streak extended to eight games when the Cowboys beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in an emotional game following Jerry Brown’s death.
Murray did all he could to shed his injury-prone persona in 2013 when he played in 14 games. He topped a thousand yards for the first time in his career (rushing for 1,121) and took a trip to the Pro Bowl. He was firmly on his way.
NFL Offensive Player Of The Year
2014 was prosperous for the Dallas Cowboys and DeMarco Murray. While one of his first carries of the season actually resulted in a fumble, #29 was cooking with gas through last season.
DeMarco Murray eclipsed 100 yards in each of the first 8 games of the 2014 season, breaking the record that Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown set all the way back in 1958.
In Week 17 DeMarco eclipsed another Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Cowboy legend, in Emmitt Smith. Murray surpassed Emmitt Smith’s single-season rushing record (1,773 yards in 1995) and ultimately rushed his way to a league-leading 1,845 yards.
The performance that DeMarco Murray put on running the ball in 2014 was one of the finer seasons that we have ever seen from any running back in NFL History. It culminated with his second selection to the Pro Bowl, a spot on the First-Team All-Pro Team, and the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award.
#29: DeMarco Murray
Football is a lot of wonderful things, but ultimately it is a business. In a business move, DeMarco Murray was allowed to test the market in free agency and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This does not at all diminish what DeMarco Murray accomplished in four years during his time with the Cowboys. He served as one of the more productive running backs in that stretch and put together one of the finest seasons that the position has ever seen last year.
Thanks for the great times, DeMarco. You deserve the best. You are the Greatest 29 in Dallas Cowboys History.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 28 in Dallas Cowboys History is!
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.
Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.
I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.
I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.
Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.
I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.
Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.
I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.
Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?
How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?
Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.
Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.
It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.
Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.
Safety Kavon Frazier
Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.
This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense. Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.
The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.
Safety Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana Tech. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.
The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.
Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.
Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.
Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.
There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.
Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.
With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.
No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving
For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.
On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.
However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving.
First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.
We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.
For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.
Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear. In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.
Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.
The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.
However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.
Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.
We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.
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