For the second time in three seasons, Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins will miss the majority of the offseason program with a broken foot. Before recording an impressive five sacks as a rookie in 2016, Collins dealt with a broken right foot. Playing with lingering injuries while going through a position change last season, Collins now becomes something of an unknown commodity for the Cowboys preparing for 2018.
Even before this latest setback for Collins, we know the Cowboys had interest in upgrading the 1T position with former DT Terrell McClain. Released after the draft by the Washington Redskins, McClain opted to join the Atlanta Falcons following his visit with the Cowboys.
Whether or not this was an early sign that Maliek Collins was preparing to line up at 3T for Rod Marinelli's defense is hard to tell. The Cowboys Defensive Coordinator remains optimistic for a player that never has missed a regular season game in two years.
Collins' best play with the Cowboys has come as a true interior pass rusher, which is where the depth the Cowboys seem to have this year will truly have its chance to shine.
The Cowboys did not draft a defensive tackle, but did acquire one during the draft by trading for Oakland's Jihad Ward. A second round pick of the Raiders in 2016, Ward is another player the Cowboys will be looking to keep healthy if Marinelli is to get the most out of him – hindered by frequent lower body injuries.
Datone Jones was signed by the Cowboys in week 13 of last season, seeing increased action at the 3T position as the season came to an end. Jones recorded a week 17 sack in Philadelphia for the Cowboys – a lasting impression that the veteran would stick on his fifth team since 2015. Now, he can expect plenty of pass rush reps all through training camp in Dallas.
Perhaps a forgotten about piece of the Cowboys defensive line, Datone Jones may benefit the most from Maliek Collins' absence. The same could also be said about David Irving, who can earn an even larger role defensively should he prove a consistent force at DT this summer.
Taco Charlton and veteran Tyrone Crawford are defensive ends with experience on the interior for the Cowboys. Even with solid depth at DE, both players should have their roster spots at this position secured, and I believe the Cowboys would be reluctant to line either up as a “starting” DT.
Regardless of where Maliek Collins lines up following his rehab, there is another starting DT spot up for grabs in Dallas. Losing out on Terrell McClain, the Cowboys appear set to move forward with the likes of Richard Ash and Brian Price holding up the middle on defense.
If you're sensing a theme here, it is that injury concerns are holding back the true potential of the Cowboys defensive line. A promising nose tackle since signing with the Cowboys just before the 2017 season, Brian Price appeared in only eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Price returns to the Cowboys this season on a team-friendly two-year deal.
Daniel Ross also remains on the Cowboys roster for 2018, hoping to become their latest steal off the Chiefs practice squad to contribute at DT. Following the path of David Irving, Ross bounced around with the Texans and Lions as a UDFA in 2017. Kansas City was Ross' last stop before signing with the Cowboys, finally seeing playing time in three regular season games.
This portion of the offseason is all about understanding what the Dallas Cowboys have “on paper”. With their rookie class being the exception, the Cowboys roster exists only on paper for a few more weeks until OTAs.
Fielding one of their deepest defensive lines in years, the competition for all four starting spots will begin as soon as the pads come on.
Maliek Collins will be welcomed back by the Cowboys as soon as he's ready to play again, and monitoring what this defensive line looks like without him will be very fun this summer.