"Amazing" and "inspiring" are far from the first words anyone would use to describe the 2017 Dallas Cowboys. In fact, they truthfully shouldn't be used at all following the Cowboys' 9-7 season that fell short of the playoffs. Both of these terms -- along with just about every other positive one there is -- apply to linebacker Jaylon Smith, however.
Playing a full 16-game NFL schedule that few thought would ever be possible, the 34th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft made the Cowboys' investment in him more profitable by the week.
It took a "redshirt" year to start his career out of Notre Dame, but now Jaylon Smith has declared himself back to normal -- just in time for the team to enter an offseason of self-reflection and roster evaluation.
Jaylon Smith: "There are no more tests or anything that's going on. All of that stuff is out of the picture. It's just a matter of timing. But for me, I can tell you and my play can tell you from the past weeks that I'm back.
Jaylon Smith finished his season with 81 tackles and one sack, good for fourth on the team.
For over a year, the Cowboys tried to sell their fans on nothing but optimism for Smith through his terrific approach at working to see the field. Perhaps unfairly, they put Smith in a position where he had to produce as much as he did in 2017 once returning to ever vindicate his draft selection.
Week by week, following a win or loss, Jaylon Smith made progress this season. There were outstanding highs mixed with lows that made even the loudest Smith supporters swallow their pride just a bit -- myself included when I called for the team to protect their developing defensive leader by placing him on IR.
The most important stats for Smith to take away from this season still shouldn't be that incredible total of tackles. The number of games played (16) and number of regular trips he'll have to make to trainers, doctors, and surgeons (a happily decreasing total) moving forward are much more important.
With the reliable Anthony Hitchens set to hit free agency this offseason, the Cowboys have learned that they can rely on Jaylon Smith.
A player that never doubted himself, the team chose him as their nominee for the Ed Block Courage Award this season. This nomination was a tip of the cap to not only Smith, but all of his teammates and the medical staff members who made his return possible.
Adding talent at linebacker around the 32-year old Sean Lee, who missed five more games this season, will again be an important discussion for Cowboys Nation leading up to the draft and free agency.
Does this look like the Jaylon Smith we saw in college? https://t.co/MfcRK9ZgUh
Having Jaylon Smith himself say that he feels ready to put a difficult past behind him and focus on being this team's middle linebacker of the future is as exciting of an offseason development as you'll find though.
All of the Dallas Cowboys plans on defense for 2018 will include Jaylon Smith continuing to find ways to defy the odds and make big plays. A deeply talented player with the traits to line up at multiple positions across any front seven, a lot could (and should) be asked of Smith moving forward.
They believed in me. America's Team ❤️ #ClearEyeView https://t.co/ZylnXCtJGw
After all, moving forward isn't anything new to #54.
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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