In more ways than one, the Dallas Cowboys are going in a new direction with their linebackers this season. Ben Bloom has taken over as the primary coach at the position, while Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard also expects to heavily influence the unit. Short on numbers and proven talent prior to the draft, the Cowboys added 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch and 193rd overall pick Chris Covington.
Also signing veteran Joe Thomas to join projected starters Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, one journeyman player has caught the eye of those around The Star for the Cowboys OTAs. With only mini camp standing in the way of the Cowboys and another competitive training camp, Justin March-Lillard has made a strong impression in staking his claim for a fringe roster spot.
March-Lillard was a mid-season addition by the Cowboys in 2017, as Dallas became his fourth team since the start of last September. Appearing in seven games, more than he ever did in one season for the Chiefs, Dolphins, or Seahawks since 2015, March-Lillard was exclusively a special teams player for the Cowboys.
This role bodes well for a spot on the current Cowboys roster, as their 90-man squad still leaves plenty of intrigue for who will replace former ST aces like Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber. Both players were of course also backups at linebacker.
Going all the way back to my original scouting report on March-Lillard, his Sean's Scout described him as follows:
"Not a player that is going to overwhelm with his physique or powerful play, March-Lillard puts himself in position to make plays on the ball by diagnosing plays quickly and consistently playing with his eyes, feet, and hands in sync."
Shaking off the rust of a long offseason without pads on during OTAs is the perfect time for a player like March-Lillard to shine, and he was able to do just that before the competition ramps up.
It may not be the other linebackers on the Cowboys roster that March-Lillard is competing with, so much as any fringe players on the roster, all working towards spots on a final 53-man team. If March-Lillard makes the 53, there is no reason not to think he doesn't continue making the 46-man active roster for the Cowboys on game days.
OTA 9. Shouts out Justin March-Lillard, who had himself a day running with the first-team D. Recovered a Dak Prescott fumble in the red zone, and broke up a goal line pass to get a big stop for the defense #cowboyswire
A linebacker that can cover ground in a hurry and react against the pass with sound tackling form, March-Lillard's skill set is ideal for the Cowboys developing approach at the position. As mentioned, both coach Bloom and Richard will mold this unit led by Sean Lee - who simply does it all when available for this Cowboys defense.
The same will hopefully be said about Jaylon Smith for the remainder of the offseason, as the Notre Dame product is off to a solid start in his continued return from injury.
Hinting at a move to the strong side, while working Smith as a pass rusher in practices too, the Cowboys are honing in on how to best utilize the physical specimen that is Jaylon.
If this means a reduced role for Smith, playing as an enforcer against the run while conceding Nickel snaps to first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch, it means only good things for Justin March-Lillard.
Comparing the 19th overall pick of this draft to an undrafted player out of Akron from 2015 would be unfair to both, but when the Cowboys deploy just two linebackers there will be plenty of players fighting for one spot.
Instinctive athletes like LVE or March-Lillard lining up alongside Lee is an ideal way for the Cowboys to improve their overall passing defense -- consistently expecting to create pressure with their front four while keeping everything in front of Richard's talented back seven.
It is a linebacker and secondary group with so much talent for the Cowboys that good players, with a real chance to stick elsewhere, will undoubtedly have to be moved on from. Such would be nothing new for Justin March-Lillard, who is also set on making Dallas his first real landing spot in the NFL.
March-Lillard will be fighting for this at the perfect time, entering his fourth season in the league for a team whose only other LBs with as much experience are Sean Lee and Damien Wilson.
We're still a long way from knowing what most of the Cowboys roster will look like for the 2018 season. With a first round pick invested at linebacker, this is going to be a group that gets extra attention from now until week one though - as players like Justin March-Lillard fight to keep their name in contention.
Report: QB Dak Prescott Signs Multi-Year Deal With Campbell’s Chunky Soup
Being the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback comes with its challenges, but it certainly comes with its perks as well. One of those perks is the opportunity for endorsement deals, and income outside of his football salary.
Dak Prescott is embracing those perks now, reportedly signing a multi-year deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup through 2020. Prescott will continue to endorse Chunky MAXX, Campbell's protein soup line.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has re-signed a new multi-year deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup through 2020. This is the first QB multi-year deal for Chunky Soup since Donovan McNabb in 2001. He'll continue to promote Chunky MAXX, the protein-packed line of soups, this year, per Edelman
Campbell's Soup has had some legendary football related commercials throughout the years, none more memorable than those with former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and his mother.
In fact, Dak Prescott is the first NFL quarterback to sign a multi-year deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup since those McNabb commercials.
Hopefully, Dak Prescott can continue to "prove it" on the field and still be the Cowboys starting quarterback throughout this entire Campbell's deal.
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.
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