I've never bought into the idea that Dallas' second-round rookie, linebacker Jaylon Smith, would play in 2016. His knee injury seemed far too serious to be worth the risk of trying to rush him onto the field. Still, there was a lingering hope that he might have a quick recovery and be able to contribute soon.
ESPN's Ed Werder all but smashed that hope with his report yesterday:
I'm told #Cowboys No. 2 pick @thejaylonsmith has experienced no significant improvement in injured nerve so far. Playing 2016 seems unlikely
No big deal, in my opinion. It just confirms what the majority of us already believed about Smith and maintains the status quo.
If anything, it only draws our attention even more to two of the Cowboys' other linebackers.
Dallas re-signed Rolando McClain in early March to a one-year, $4 million contract with some heavy incentive bonuses. It's a mercenary deal that hopefully keeps McClain, who has well-documented motivation issues, productive and available. Along with the 2016 bonuses, Rolando McClain will be thinking about his free agency next year.
McClain will turn 28 during the summer of 2017, making this a critical season for him. That's still young enough for teams to give you a long-term deal, but also at the end of the spectrum. If Rolando McClain doesn't have a standout season for Dallas, it could knock him off the radar for most other teams.
Jaylon Smith's knee only further incentivizes Rolando McClain to perform. If it goes poorly, McClain could find that new contract right here in Dallas. If nothing else, he may be able to get another one-year deal as an insurance policy against Smith's health.
After a strong 2014 rookie season, Anthony Hitchens looked like a future stud at middle linebacker. However, he was not as good in his opportunities last year. The fact that Dallas even drafted Jaylon Smith in the second round, knowing the risks, says something about where they are on Hitchens' long-term prospects.
Plenty of guys have "sophomore slumps" and come back to have great careers. Anthony Hitchens could easily be one of those and will now have less worry of Smith taking knocking him down the depth chart. If Rolando McClain has an injury or some other cause for absence, as he usually does, then Hitchens will likely still be the first man up to replace him.
In fact, given Smith's health and McClain's personal issues, it's not unreasonable that Hitchens could walk into the 2017 season as the starting middle linebacker. He should not be discouraged by the drafting of Jaylon Smith, but start pushing even harder. Opportunity still abounds.
~ ~ ~
Football is a tricky business when it comes to the health and success of teammates at your position. Publicly, nobody roots for the guy in front of them to have problems. But still, "deep down in places you don't talk about at parties," these guys can't help but get excited when their own security or opportunity increases because of a teammate's misfortune.
Make no mistake, Jaylon Smith could be the most talented linebacker on this team right now, and especially among the middle linebackers. The consensus is that he would've been a Top-5 talent in this last draft if not for the knee injury.
Guys like Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens can't worry about that, though.
They need to just give their all in the present and wait to see what that means for the future. Even if it doesn't come from the Cowboys, the rewards are out there for quality linebackers. It's a position where few teams are ever satisfied.
Nobody knows that better than the Dallas Cowboys.
Which Cowboys Benefit From David Irving’s Suspension?
While losing David Irving for the first four weeks of 2018 is a bad thing for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line, it does create opportunities for some of the other defensive tackles. Who has the most to gain from Irving's suspension?
Because he was mostly going to be used inside as the 3-technique DT, David's absence will naturally benefit the guys who are best suited to play that role. Thankfully, Dallas isn't lacking for those types of players.
Veteran Tyrone Crawford can use all the playing time he can get. As a likely salary cap casualty next year, Crawford doesn't want to get buried on the depth chart as Dallas focuses on their younger players who project to stick around beyond 2018.
With Irving out, Dallas will likely lean on Tyrone as they often do when someone is missing on the defensive line. With more talent now at defensive end, Crawford was going to be competing with Irving, Maliek Collins, Jihad Ward, and other younger guys for work at tackle.
But now there's a problem, and it's easy to slide Crawford into the 3-tech role that Dallas once envisioned him being a star at. Remember, it was their projection of Tyrone as a breakout DT that got him his big contract to begin with.
Yes, Irving's only gone for four weeks. Dallas will still be giving him work in camp based on the role he should fill for the majority of the season. But that's why a veteran like Tyrone Crawford is a great temporary plug-in, because he doesn't need all of the practice reps to step in and perform.
Another key beneficiary could be third-year DT Maliek Collins. Last season, Collins got stuck playing 1-technique and not getting the same opportunities to make plays and get noticed that he had his rookie year.
But now Dallas has several guys in Jihad Ward, Richard Ash, and Brian Price who can play the 1-tech role, which will hopefully get Collins back where he belongs. Maliek's athleticism belongs a little further away from center, letting him try to take on guards in single coverage.
Collins is dealing with a foot issue now but should be back for the preseason. That's enough time for him to be where he needs to be Week One, provided he's healthy.
How Dallas would balance playing time between Collins and Tyrone Crawford could be a matter of how much they play certain schemes. One could see Collins, the bigger guy, playing more in the base defense and then Crawford being used in passing situations.
There is always a lot of rotation in a Rod Marinelli line, so discussions about playing time can get a little silly. Unless you're a true stud like DeMarcus Lawrence who you don't want to take off the field, the Cowboys like to keep guys fresh.
But that's why this is a big opportunity; David Irving has that stud potential. He's the kind of talent who could keep solid players like Crawford and Collins out of view if he hits his stride.
For the first four weeks, though, Irving will be in the NFL doghouse and Dallas will likely lean on its two most experienced defensive tackles to fill the void. There will be more reps for guys like Datone Jones and Jihad Ward too, but Crawford and Collins have way more skins on the wall
That trust should keep them on the field more while David Irving's suspended, and perhaps beyond.
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.
Cowboys Offense Finds Rhythm to End Minicamp, Hurns and Gallup Stand Out
The Dallas Cowboys are back in offseason mode, concluding their OTAs and minicamp from The Star. With a hiatus until training camp, it was important for several high-profile players to make a strong first impression on the 2018 season. From the start of mini camp, these impressions were left mostly by Rod Marinelli's defense and -- more specifically -- Kris Richard's young group of cornerbacks.
Still working through significant change on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys did rally on day three under Quarterback Dak Prescott to put out a better performance. The Cowboys coaching staff should love their lasting memories of both FA acquisition Wide Receiver Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup.
There is a strong chance that these two receivers will be the Cowboys starters in Oxnard for training camp. We have heard a lot about the impact new WR Coach Sanjay Lal has had on his group, slowing the game down to focus on route running. This will give the team's rotation of unproven receivers a chance with Prescott, as he can focus on throwing to a 'spot' more often.
One spot that Prescott has struggled to hit in two seasons as the starter in Dallas is the back of the end zone for fade routes. A red zone go-to under Scott Linehan, free agent WR Dez Bryant was often the intended target on these missed passes.
Less of a route running technician and closer to the mold of a physical player like Bryant, Allen Hurns emerging as the Cowboys #1 option would solve a lot of uncertainty at the WR position. In yesterday's practice, Hurns was able to haul in a perfect ball from Prescott on the fade as he beat Byron Jones.
It's going to take some time for Jones to readjust to playing cornerback, but the vision for Kris Richard of him and Chidobe Awuzie starting on the outside is a great one. In a battle of proven players, Hurns got the best of Jones to spark the Cowboys offense at the right time.
Overall, there should be no reason to panic about (well, really anything from mini camp) the Cowboys offense right now, and plenty of reasons to be excited about what this defense will develop into.
Once the pads come on at training camp, the players the Cowboys are paying to play at an elite level will start to shine, including their newly re-signed Guard Zack Martin -- the highest paid guard in the league now. There are no doubts that the bread and butter for this offense will be handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott behind this wall of an offensive line.
From this increase in competition in the trenches, we'll also get more meaningful battles along the defensive line. In shorts and helmets for now, the Cowboys secondary was given their chance at mini camp, and came out solid early.
Another player they've struggled to truly corral though is Michael Gallup. Perhaps pressing a bit thanks to his limited opportunities thus far, Jourdan Lewis was taken across the field by Gallup on a misfire from Cooper Rush.
This is nothing new for Gallup however, who's been ahead of the curve on creating the desired separation as a "violent" receiver on the outside.
A steal with the 81st overall pick in this year's draft, Gallup has a long way to go in beating out the likes of Terrance Williams, Cedrick Wilson (limited through this portion of the offseason with injuries), and even Cole Beasley, who's received some reps on the outside.
With both Hurns and Gallup making plays on the Cowboys final practice until late July, it's easy to let the mind wander with possibilities of the Cowboys offense playing at full strength against a defense that might be up for the challenge better than ever compared to year's past.
As always, the practice fields of Oxnard will serve as a battle ground for a young but deep Cowboys team to earn their spots on the 53-man roster, one that surely won't have room for all of the wide receiver hopefuls seen this week in mini camp.
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