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Storylines Abound for Dallas Cowboys Training Camp

John Williams

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Cowboys Pre-Training Camp 53-Man Roster Prediction: Offensive Edition
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

As the Dallas Cowboys get training camp going this week, the drama surrounding the team is as high as it's ever been.

From suspensions to injuries, America's team brings a lot of newsworthy items as they get ready to embark on what many of us hope will end with a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

Dallas Cowboys Well Represented In 2017 ESPY Awards

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott #4, RB Ezekiel Elliott #21 (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Will the Hammer Drop on a Certain Running Back?

Ezekiel Elliott's name has been in the news a lot this offseason, and that is rarely a good thing.

For Elliott it's been a mixed bag.

There's been a lot of speculation on his and quarterback Dak Prescott's ability to repeat their remarkable rookie seasons.

Most of the news surrounding the NFL's leading rusher from a year ago has been predominantly troubling.

From speeding to alleged bar fights, Elliott has been in the news a lot for making bad choices or being in the wrong place at the wrong time a lot lately.

With a lot of the focus for the Cowboys offense surrounding Elliott and the running game, the latest news has been particularly troubling to Cowboys Nation. He is the focal point of an offense that hopes to lead this team to a championship in 2017, but if he isn't on the field, those aspirations diminish.

Darren McFadden and the rest of the running back depth chart is solid, but no one would confuse them for Ezekiel Elliott.

With the latest news suggesting that the NFL has wrapped up its investigation into the domestic violence allegation from more than a year ago, some resolution should be coming shortly.

Whether that's in the form of a suspension or a fine remains to be seen. Many who cover the team seem convinced that at least a one-game suspension is coming, but nobody can be certain.

What hasn't been talked about much lately is what Elliott is capable of on the field. Let's not forget that Elliott nearly led the league in Total Yards in 2016 despite playing one less game than Arizona Cardinals runner David Johnson. If he's on the field for 16 games this year, he's going to have a chance at 2,000 rushing yards and possibly 2,500 total yards.

He was amazing as a rookie and will continue to get better if he's got his head on straight.

Dak Prescott's Draws Rave Reviews Ahead of 2nd Season

As Jess Haynie noted here, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is receiving some pretty amazing comparisons heading into his second season.

"Sophomore slump" is a phrase that gets thrown around a ton by people who are more than likely part of Cowboys Hater Nation. When people talk about Carson Wentz, are we hearing discussion about a slump? Not to my knowledge. It seems people are expecting him to make marked improvement.

But for Prescott, most national analysts expect him to have some sort of regression. Because... just because.

Don't buy it.

We've seen enough of Dak's work ethic to know that he hasn't rested on his 2016 success. In his second season, I fully expect Prescott to be in the MVP conversation yet again as he leads the team deep into the playoffs.

Charles Tapper Will Improve Cowboys Pass Rush In 2017 2

Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Charles Tapper #79 (James D Smith via AP)

Players Returning from Injury Offer Glimmer of Hope

Much has been made this offseason over the recovery of Jaylon Smith's nerve. The star college linebacker has made a ton of progress in his recovery from the knee injury he suffered in his final collegiate game.

Hope is great and the positive news coming from inside The Star can't be ignored. That said, there is still no telling what the team will get from Smith in 2017. The other day I predicted that Jaylon would likely start the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Charles Tapper, on the other hand, looks healthy and ready to go.

He was sidelined to injured reserve in 2016 with a bad back that needed some rehab time.

Now declared healthy, he offers some hope on the right side of the Dallas defensive line that is filled with a bunch of guys who can play the left side. Tapper has a lot of athletic tools that can be useful to a defense. We still need to see him practice and play in some preseason games to get an idea of what he could bring to the team.

Just to remind you what he's capable of, check out Kevin Brady's scouting report on Tapper.

2016 Draft Class Looks to Add to Their Legacy

There hasn't been a Cowboys rookie class that has had as big of an impact as the 2016 rookie class did in more than two decades. Elliott, Prescott, Maliek Collins, and Anthony Brown all played significant snaps for the team.

All four of these guys will be counted on again in 2017.

Kavon Frazier was a solid special teams contributor and began seeing some late season snaps. He'll compete with Jeff Heath, Robert Blanton, and Xavier Woods for snaps at strong safety.

Smith and Tapper--coming back from injury--will look to make their debuts in 2017 and both could start at some point this season.

Rico Gathers offers the last mystery to the 2016 draft class. Drafted as a project out of Baylor, Gathers is competing for a role on the depth chart. He has to prove he's ready to hold up in his blocking assignments.

Cowboys' Rookies To Begin Training Camp Wednesday At The Star

Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Taco Charlton #97 (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

2017 Rookie Class Aiming for 2016 Rookie Impact

It's unlikely the 2017 draft class can match the impact of the 2016 class, if only because it's hard to match the impact of a franchise quarterback. For what the 2016 rookie class was on offense, completely franchise changing, the 2017 class can be that for the defense.

Seven selections went to the defensive side of the ball, including four defensive backs.

Taco Charlton headlines a group of defensive players who could literally determine how late into the season the Cowboys are playing.

If Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Marquez White, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Carrell can have a similar impact as the 2016 rookie class, watch out. This defense will be ready to take the team to the next step.

Offensive Line Turnover

Gone are Ronald Leary (Denver Broncos) and Doug Free (retirement).

Replacing Free at right tackle appears to be La'el Collins, who is making the transition back to the position he manned pretty effectively in college.

Left guard will have to settle itself out during training camp. It is the most highly anticipated position battle on the offensive side of the football.

At the moment it seems that Jonathan Cooper has the leg up, but Chaz Green, Byron Bell and others will definitely get their opportunity to run with the first team.


The Cowboys will have a lot to say about who hoists the Lombardi Trophy come February 2018. The way these training camp storylines play out will write the story for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys.



I didn't start out as a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quickly as I could. I grew up a Joe Montana fan when he was with the 49ers and followed him to the Chiefs, until we moved to Texas. I've now been a Fan of the Boys since the Dark Days of the Post-Aikman, Pre-Romo era of abysmal quarterback play, now relishing in more than a decade of franchise quarterbacking for America's Team.

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Does DT David Irving Have a Future With the Cowboys?

Brian Martin

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Does DT David Irving Have a Future With Cowboys?
Albert Pena/CSM/REX/Shutter

The 2018 season was supposed to be a big one for Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving. It was supposed to be the year he would finally put everything together both on and off the field. Unfortunately, that's not what will happen and he will once again miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension.

Just like in 2017, David Irving will miss the first four games of the 2018 season this year because he violated the substance abuse policy once again. It's definitely not the way he probably would've liked to start off the season, especially since it's a contract year. But, it is what it is now.

It wasn't all that long ago that David Irving was performing like one of the best defensive tackles in the entire NFL. He absolutely dominated last season and ranked right up there at the top in quarterback sacks amongst the defensive tackles. He finished with seven QB sacks in just eight games. That's nearly a sack a game.

There is no denying how talented David Irving is and how he can impact a game when he's on the field. Unfortunately, it's the off the field stuff that has probably kept him from receiving a long-term contract from the Dallas Cowboys so far. This latest incident might have shut that door completely.

David Irving

Dallas Cowboys DT David Irving

Quite a few Dallas Cowboys fans, including myself, thought the organization made a mistake by placing just a second-round tender on David Irving this offseason. A lot of us believed some other team would jump at the chance of surrendering a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to secure his services. Surprisingly enough though, that didn't happen.

The Cowboys gamble paid off and David Irving will once again be a member of the team this season. But, beyond that his chances of sticking around doesn't look too good.

David Irving has become his own worst enemy. On the field he is one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the entire NFL. His name could be mentioned in the same breath as the Los Angeles Rams Pro-Bowl DT Aaron Donald, who should break the bank as soon as he receives his next contract.

I don't think it's a stretch to put Irving in the same company as Aaron Donald. He's that good when he's on the field and might just be a little bit more versatile. The sad thing is he can't be trusted, which will hurt negotiations when looking to sign a long-term contract after the 2018 season.

Teams know Irving can't really be relied upon to play an entire season. The Cowboys after all have given him every chance to prove himself, but time and time again he has let them down. This latest suspension might be the last straw.

It's one thing to keep a talented player around when they aren't costing a lot of money. But, it's another when you're investing big money in someone you can't fully trust. After all, actions speak louder than words. That could be why the Cowboys risked placing the second-round tender on Irving in the first place.

I personally have a hard time seeing David Irving sticking around after the 2018 season. I'm not against it, but there are more proven players who need to be locked up long-term and they don't come with the same kind of risk. Irving's future with the Cowboys doesn't look too good in my opinion.

Would you be on board with the Cowboys signing David Irving long-term?



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Sean’s Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving’s 2017 Absence

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving's 2017 Absence

For the second consecutive season, the Dallas Cowboys will be without the services of Defensive Tackle David Irving for their first four games. When Irving has been on the field, he's been a disruptive force at the all-important under tackle position, something the Cowboys can only hope he'll continue to be for at least 12 regular season games in 2018.

In his absence last year, the Cowboys allowed 107.5 rushing yards per game and another 231.75 through the air. While these numbers aren't far off from the team's final total of 104 rushing yards and 214 passing yards allowed per game, Irving's presence was surely missed on Rod Marinelli's defense.

I put on the tape to study how the Cowboys handled Irving's prior suspension, primarily watching the likes of Stephen Paea, Brian Price, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford play in rotation at defensive tackle.

With Paea no longer in the league and Collins dealing with another broken foot that expects to sideline him through most of training camp, the Cowboys will have to find a mostly new approach at DT starting next month in Oxnard.

Here is what I took away from the players still on the roster for 2018 that will have their chance to step in for David Irving.

DT Maliek Collins

DT4

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Any talks of the Cowboys maintaining a high level of play at defensive tackle without Irving has to start with Maliek Collins. Drafted as the starter at 3T-DT in 2016, Collins flashed incredible potential at this position despite missing most of camp as a rookie.

Last season, Collins was forced to play more as a one technique (1T) once Irving returned to the lineup, making up for the loss of both Paea and Price. Using his strength and stocky frame well as a 1T, Collins filled in admirably at this new spot -- though some fans still believe he was held back from developing further as a pass rusher.

When I watched Collins in the first four weeks of 2017 on tape, I didn't see the same technician of a pass rusher at the 3T position. Particularly in week one against the New York Giants, Collins struggled mightily with his pad level. This made is easy for interior offensive linemen to knock Collins off-balance, where he's effectively removed from the play due to a lack of recovery speed.

Collins best plays were produced when he was able to quickly shoot a gap to get up the field, or play with his hands above his eyes in overpowering his blocker to flow down the line. These are all desirable traits for a 1T tackle, which the Cowboys played with two of for the majority of snaps in weeks one through four.

Rod Marinelli was able to make a combination of Collins and Stephen Paea work on the interior. Similarly to Collins, there were flash plays from Paea, but overall this duo struggled to push the pocket much more than expected.

Keeping contain and creating penetration were two areas the Cowboys played at a below average level without David Irving last year.

DT2

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Just how much they'll allow Maliek Collins to change this, depending on the position he lines up at, will go a long way in how well the Cowboys are prepared for this season's dilemma of not having #95.

DT Tyrone Crawford

I can see why Tyrone Crawford was a fan of moving out to the right defensive end position later in 2017, after watching his limited reps at DT from the start of the season. This is a team captain, veteran player that's always competing on every single snap.

With that said, Crawford took a beating when trying to rush against double teams and get up the field. If Crawford's initial rush move is stopped, he has a hard time freeing himself up to make a play, getting drawn into his blocker's frame.

It remains unknown if Randy Gregory will be reinstated to play RDE for the Cowboys this season, but the team also feels good about rookie Dorance Armstrong and FA signing Kony Ealy at this spot. This depth, paired with their immediate need at 3T, means that Tyrone Crawford could be a likely candidate to kick back inside.

DT3

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The Cowboys won't have to worry about Crawford not doing everything he can to make an impact at this spot, but the difference from his reps to David Irving's will be noticeable should this be the Cowboys plan.

DT Brian Price

Brian Price finds himself in an interesting position for the 2018 season, re-signed by the Cowboys after losing 2017 to injury after just eight games. Price is solely a 1T-DT, which as previously mentioned is a spot that feels occupied by Maliek Collins.

Still a potentially valuable piece of the Cowboys rotation up front, it's hard to imagine Brian Price giving the Cowboys any of what they'll be missing from Irving. These are simply two completely different players.

DT1

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Price did impress on tape from the first four weeks of the season, disengaging quickly to play with impressive range for a bigger "nose tackle" type.

The Cowboys priority at DT without Irving should be tightening up against the run, something Price undoubtedly helps them with.

 ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

We've heard plenty of great things about newly acquired DT Jihad Ward, a converted defensive end from the Oakland Raiders, as a player that was unavailable to the Cowboys last season. With his new defensive coordinator being a fan, Ward has a chance to turn heads at 3T while allowing the rest of the Cowboys DTs to slide into place.

There's a reason David Irving is worth the setbacks he's caused the Cowboys, and it's because athletic DTs like him that get to the quarterback at a high rate are so hard to find. This is evident by the fact that the Cowboys defensive line, as currently constructed, features sufficient depth at 1T but lacks 3T players behind Ward.

Putting this much pressure on a player traded for on the third day of the draft is never ideal roster building, but Ward could potentially be aided by both Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins as the Cowboys patch things together against the Panthers, Giants, Seahawks, and Lions to open 2018.

Other options further down the roster include Datone Jones, Daniel Ross, Lewis Neal, and Richard Ash.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving’s 2017 Absence" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

Brian Martin

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Tavon Austin, Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

If I were to ask you right now who will end up being the Dallas Cowboys playmakers in 2018, what would be your answer? I don't know what my answer would be other than Ezekiel Elliott, but one player does kind of stick out above the rest, wide receiver/running back Tavon Austin.

The Dallas Cowboys acquired Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams during the 2018 NFL Draft. It was a move that was met with some skepticism from many fans, but I for one like the trade.

A lot of NFL teams are overvaluing draft picks, especially later in the draft. The Dallas Cowboys only gave up a sixth-round draft pick to acquire Austin. It's unlikely anybody else drafted there would contribute this season, but Austin surely will.

It really looks as if the Dallas Cowboys have a clear plan for Tavon Austin this season. That's really a good thing considering all of the unknown with the rest of the offensive playmakers.

It's still a little strange to think about how much turnover the Dallas Cowboys have on the offensive side of the ball. Dak Prescott will pretty much be throwing to an entirely different group of wide receivers this season and will have a new tight end as well. Right now, it's a little scary to think about all of that change and whether or not it will be successful.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tavon Austin

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR/RB Tavon Austin

Luckily, the Cowboys still have Ezekiel Elliott, who will once again be the engine that propels the entire offense. He is really the Cowboys only playmaker who we know will without a doubt find success this year. Despite having a down year in 2017, for good reason, he is still considered one of the best running backs in the league.

We should find that comforting considering all of the unknown about the rest of the offense. No one really knows what they are getting from Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, or any of the other WRs. Cole Beasley of course may be the most reliable receiving target, but I wouldn't exactly call him a playmaker.

When I think of a playmaker, I'm envisioning someone who can take over a game by themselves. Ezekiel Elliott is more than capable of doing that, but I don't know if there is anybody else on the Cowboys roster who would fall into that category.

Tavon Austin may not be someone who can solely take over a game, but I think he could be the next best thing. He is a dangerous player any time he touches the ball due to his speed and elusiveness. He can hurt a defense in so many different ways and that should get you a little bit excited.

Unfortunately, we don't really know how the Dallas Cowboys or offensive coordinator Scott Linehan plan to utilize Austin's unique skill set just yet. Linehan doesn't have the best track record of being able to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers, but hopefully things will change this year.

I may end up being in the minority here, but I'm going to predict that Tavon Austin ends up being the Dallas Cowboys best playmaker, not named Ezekiel Elliott, this season. I think he can make a difference as a receiver, running back, and on special teams as well.

What do you think about WR/RB Tavon Austin as a playmaker?



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