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Cowboys CTK: The Center of #53: Mark Stepnoski

RJ Ochoa

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Cowboys Blog - The Center of #53: Mark Stepnoski

Welcome to Hump Day at Inside The Star! I’ve made a formal petition to have an actual camel roam the offices on Wednesdays, but sadly I don’t think this will become a reality. As it is Wednesday we are 6 days away from Training Camp and a mere 53 days (that’s only 76,320 minutes…or 4,579,200 Mississippis if you want to count it) away from football! While you guys get started on counting to four and a half million I’m going to hit you with the Greatest 53 in Dallas Cowboys History.

The Following Players Have All Worn 53 For The Dallas Cowboys:

  • Keith Adams, LB
  • John Babinecz, LB
  • Bob Breunig, LB
  • Bruce Carter, LB
  • Mike Connelly, C
  • Ray Donaldson, C
  • Onzy Elam, LB
  • Oliver Hoyte, FB
  • Garth Jax, LB
  • Cameron Lawrence*, LB
  • Steve Octavien, LB
  • Randy Shannon, LB
  • Dave Simmons, LB
  • Victor Simmons, LB
  • Mark Stepnoski, C
  • Kalen Thornton, LB
  • Fred Whittingham, LB

*Active player on the Dallas Cowboys roster

There are two players on today’s list that we need to highlight. These are two great Dallas Cowboys who played completely different positions.

Mark Stepnoski

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Bob Breunig

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Bob The Builder

The 1975 “Dirty Dozen” Draft Class has made many appearances on our Countdown To Kickoff Series. Bob Breunig, the third round selection, adds to the prestige of that class.

Bob didn’t play much in 1975 when the Dallas Cowboys lost Super Bowl X to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He managed to become the starting strongside linebacker in 1976, but his real breakout was 1977 when he made the move to middle linebacker. Breunig took over for the recently retired Lee Roy Jordan and made his mark in the middle of Doomsday.

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Breunig helped the Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowl XII and established himself as a playmaker on a unit filled with them. He led the team in tackles for a total of six seasons, and he managed to break the single-season tackle record for the team in 1981. Bob Breunig played in 117 straight games at one point in time and retired behind only the Greatest 55 in Dallas Cowboys History, Lee Roy Jordan, in tackles. He was a great Cowboy and did a lot for the franchise, but he falls just short of our 53 honors.

Every Little Step I Take

The University of Pittsburgh had already given the Dallas Cowboys an amazing player back in 1977 with Tony Dorsett. That trend continued in 1989, in the third round specifically, as the Dallas Cowboys found themselves with offensive lineman Mark Stepnoski.

step

The Cowboys moved Step to center, a position he had never played before, and the Greatest 64 in Dallas Cowboys History, Tom Rafferty, tutored him during his final playing years. Mark’s smaller size caused him to slip in the draft, but he learned how to use it well. His individual effort was recognized with a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl after the 1991 season. His travel agent was quite busy as Mark took the trip for the following four years as well.

The Great Wall of Dallas

While Mark achieved some notable personal accomplishments it was what he did as part of a unit that Cowboy fans remember most. Assembled with Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Kevin Gogan, and Erik Williams they formed the Great Wall of Dallas. This offensive line is one of the greatest in the history of professional football and helped the Cowboys win back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1990s as well as pave the way for the NFL’s All-Time Leading Rusher, Emmitt Smith.

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Mark Stepnoski and I at Emmitt Smith's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2010.

Only a handful of people can lay claim to blocking for the NFL’s All-Time Leading Rusher. Mark Stepnoski not only blocked for Emmitt Smith, but he was an integral part of the lanes created for him. The Cowboys of the 1990s ran power draws a lot and the center position is crucial for that. Stepnoski was arguably the greatest center of his era, as exemplified by his presence on the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.

Mark Stepnoski Takes #53

Mark Stepnoski anchored one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL History. He manned the middle for Pro Football Hall of Famers and Dallas Cowboy Legends Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. The center position hardly gets the glitz and glamour of the primary skill positions, but Mark Stepnoski made the center position fun to watch. He continued the long legacy of great Dallas Cowboy centers before him and established himself as the Greatest 53 in Dallas Cowboys History.

Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 52 in Dallas Cowboys History is!


Want to share your opinions on who should be featured on our Countdown To Kickoff? Email me at rjochoa@insidethestar.com or Tweet @rjochoa.

 

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys CTK: The Center of #53: Mark Stepnoski" in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!



I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

Star Blog

Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.

Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.

I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.

I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.

Jihad Ward

Dallas Cowboys DT Jihad Ward

Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.

I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.

Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.

I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.

Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?



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Star Blog

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?

Sean Martin

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How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary?
(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.

Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.

It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.

Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary? 2

Dallas Cowboys S Kavon Frazier (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Safety Kavon Frazier

Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.

This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense.  Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.

The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.

Safety Xavier Woods

Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana Tech. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.

The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.

Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.

Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary? 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Brown, S Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath

Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.

There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).

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Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.

Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.

With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.

Tell us what you think about "How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Star Blog

No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys' Pass Rush: Who Will Be QB Sack Leader In 2017?
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.

On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself  by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.

However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving. 

First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.

We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.

For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.

Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear.  In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.

Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.

The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.

However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.

Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.

We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.

Tell me what you think about "No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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