The Dallas Cowboys added depth to the strong interior of their defense this week, calling up preseason standout Lewis Neal and signing Joe Vellano to the practice squad. These moves were made to replace 1T DT Brian Price, who's season came to an end with his knee injury suffered against the Chiefs.
Maliek Collins and David Irving have stood out as starters at DT for the Cowboys thus far, and I profiled Collins' ability to transition to the 1T position vacated by Price in this Sean's Scout. When studying Dallas' win over Kansas City, the drop off in ability on Rod Marinelli's defensive line when Irving or Collins were spelled by Richard Ash was very visible.
This is likely just part of the reason why the Cowboys, who rank 12th in rushing yards allowed per game, added Lewis Neal as a unique athletic player that can translate his talents to both the 3T and 1T positions with equal impact.
Neal's ability to explode into his blockers with controlled power and balance stood out all preseason, as he sacks Connor Cook by overpowering the right guard to eventually disengage and finish the play.
Across the board, the Cowboys have capable run defenders starting up front, with Tyrone Crawford excelling in this role as a right defensive end. Neal has a real chance to fit this rotation as early as this week against the Falcons.
Stuffing a run against the Rams in the preseason here, Neal again shows off his rare combination of power and speed to win inside against the guard and make the play.
Lewis Neal had a case to make the Cowboys roster out of training camp, turning heads as an undrafted rookie out of LSU. Neal was able to outperform two draft picks at his position, as the Cowboys moved on from seventh round selections Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell.
Cowboys activated rookie DT Lewis Neal from practice squad this week. NeaI's proof he's strong: He broke @LSUfootball's school record power-cleaning 391 pounds in July 2016
(Video via @ImBallinNeal18) pic.twitter.com/t5KTyh3fN7
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 8, 2017
Now, injury has created opportunity for Lewis Neal, who will be a factor whenever given the chance to line up in Rod Marinelli's front.
Maliek Collins and David Irving will rarely come off the field at both positions that Neal has previously played, but when they do the rookie can instantly be a high-motor upgrade over Richard Ash – primarily on passing downs.
Preparing to play their next six games without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys know that their defense will have to be at full strength to continue winning games and contending for the NFC East. A suddenly productive defensive line that is helping the Cowboys win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball will help, and Lewis Neal expects to be part of this unit now.
Getting combination plays like the one above from Collins and Crawford via the depth on their defensive line down to Taco Charlton, Benson Mayowa, and Lewis Neal will go a long way these coming weeks.