Often referred to as the most dominant unit in all of football, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line features three first round picks and a fourth first-round talent on the starting group. In 2016, they were without one of those four first-round talents, as La'el Collins missed the majority of the season with a torn ligament in his foot.
Collins took over as the starting left guard during the Cowboys seven-game losing skid in 2015. With neither the running nor passing game working as well as anticipated, head coach Jason Garrett inserted Collins into the lineup looking for a spark.
That spark was delivered, and Collins played the rest of his rookie season at left guard, producing highlight plays like this one just about every week.
PFF has given out the highest grade we give run blockers twice this season, and La'el Collins has both. #Pancakes https://t.co/30GIvcaFJR
Going into 2016, Collins was firmly cemented a top Ronald Leary on the depth chart, and was expected to take a huge step forward in his progression. The fact is, that progression didn't happen as quickly as we hoped.
Collins struggled in his short-time active in 2016, leading many to wonder just how healthy he was from the get-go. In the season opener, he had troubles with the stud defensive tackles of the New York Giants, getting thrown around at times in pass protection.
He improved week two against the Washington Redskins, and once again showed flashes of the greatness everyone believes he possesses. The following week was his final appearance of 2016, injuring his foot against the Chicago Bears.
The fact of the matter is, when Ronald Leary was in the lineup, the Cowboys offense played much better than when he was not. Leary and All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith had immaculate chemistry on deuce blocks, working up to the second level to clear running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott beautifully.
Now set to get paid somewhere other than Dallas, Leary is on his way out the door, and La'el Collins is back to return to his left guard throne.
The question is, will this injury set Collins' development back even further?
When healthy, we saw the talent which Collins brings to the table. Strong hands, brute power, and the ability to flatten even the best defenders, La'el has a chance to join his teammates on the All-Pro squad in 2017.
The problems with La'el are mostly technical and mental. In pass protection, he must get more fluid in his kick steps, and learn to power down against inside moves better. He has the size and strength to anchor against bull rushes, but he just needs to become more consistent doing so.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
At times, La'el will initially step with the wrong foot, or go the wrong way in zone blocking. Against the Giants, he sometimes zeroed in on the linebacker he was "supposed" to block, rendering him unable adjust when another defender flashed on his path. He must keep himself square when working to the linebackers, and keep his eyes up at all times.
La'el Collins can do all of this. He is more than capable of improving on his flaws, which are all very coach-able. If he can remain healthy, Collins has a chance to be the fourth Pro-Bowler on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line in 2017.
From tackle to tackle, the Cowboys have the best offensive line in football. La'el Collins will prove to be a valuable part of this unit next season.
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.
Want to help make Inside The Star better?
We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Should Cowboys DT Jihad Ward Be Getting More Attention?
Star Blog1 week ago
Could Connor Williams Actually Define the Cowboys’ Season?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Can WR Cedrick Wilson be the Cowboys Next Deep Threat?
Player News6 days ago
Report: Cowboys Sign OL Zack Martin To 6 Year Deal
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could Cowboys CB Anthony Brown be a Trade Asset?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys 2018 Job Security Rankings: Defense
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
4 Reasons Terrance Williams Won’t Be a Cowboy
Player News2 days ago
BREAKING: David Irving Suspended For 2nd Consecutive Year