Early offseason practices in the NFL are about preparing a 90-man roster for the rigor of padded training camps and a preseason that depletes each roster to just 53 men. Understanding where a team's strengths and weaknesses are with OTAs underway is vital to completing the roster. For the Dallas Cowboys, their defensive line projects to be one of Rod Marinelli's deepest and most talented groups yet, but even the Cowboys defensive coordinator is realizing this without starting DT David Irving right now.
Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli on David Irving: "Not in shape. ... He's been in and out [of the offseason conditioning program]." Is that disappointing? "No. The guys here I'm excited about.
David Irving's flashes of raw talent with the Cowboys have been more than enough to convince some fans that it's actually the team's fault for seemingly holding Irving back. With this latest development, it appears that the Cowboys have done everything they could to protect Irving - who's rewarded them with 11.5 sacks in 35 games.
Absent from the Cowboys workouts so far, Irving is reportedly out of football shape. According to Head Coach Jason Garrett, Irving is "getting into shape". Whatever that means. Something about accountability goes here.
Making a name for himself in Dallas ever since being picked up by the Cowboys off the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad, Irving has been in the news for plenty of wrong reasons before too. Remaining with the Cowboys after signing a second-round tender for 2018, the Cowboys have leverage against a projected starter at DT.
Any other team could have picked up Irving at the price of their second round pick, choosing instead to see this offseason's domestic violence charges and now a lack of practice participation reflect directly back on the Dallas Cowboys.
A Cowboys team that has even more questions to answer on the depth chart at defensive tackle. As it stands now, Maliek Collins will come off of a second broken foot in three seasons to start at one of the two DT spots for Dallas. The talented but perhaps misused interior rusher will be joined by the likes of Brian Price, Lewis Neal (who was preparing to spend the offseason learning the fullback position as of a few weeks ago), and Jihad Ward.
When the Cowboys traded for Ward during the 2018 NFL Draft, it is hard to believe they imagined needing him to step into such a large role right away. To David Irving's defense, the 6'7" nightmare for offensive linemen has a long time to work his way back onto the field and dominate in ways that few at the position can.
Irving should have no problem standing out over the field of DTs the Cowboys are currently fielding, undervaluing the position in recent memory. Rod Marinelli may very well have reason to be excited about the guys he has worked with so far, left with no choice but to apply his hard-and-fast coaching style to any defensive linemen fortunate enough to learn under him.
The alarming amount of players doing so right now that the Cowboys will have to consider for spots on the roster thanks to David Irving's continuous unreliability is concerning to say the least.
Also working through their numbers at linebacker to evaluate how first round pick Leighton Vander Esch will be utilized, the new-look Cowboys defense feels uncertain up the middle. Again, it is the end of May and games are not won and lost because of this just yet.
Insert David Irving at the 3T position and suddenly the entire Dallas defense is elevated because of it. Particularly franchise-tagged Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who makes Irving's current status all the more frustrating - benefiting the most from playing alongside a disruptive DT and entering yet another contract season.
As the summer heat beckons the return of another NFL season, the Cowboys are going to have plenty of difficult roster decisions to make before ever reaching a meaningful game. Falling behind this early in the offseason program after three years with the Cowboys is inexcusable for David Irving.
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Graduating From Notre Dame
The 2019 season is right around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys, with OTA's and training camp getting ready to kickoff in the coming weeks/months.
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith made the most of his offseason, going back to Notre Dame to finish out his college degree. Smith is set to graduate from Notre Dame this Saturday, and will walk to earn his degree in Film & Television.
Smith talked to DallasCowboys.com's David Helman about why it was so important for him to graduate and finish what he started at Notre Dame.
“When I left after my junior year, I promised my mom that I would go back and finish...Finishing my third year with the Cowboys, it was time.” - Jaylon Smith
2,025 @NotreDame undergraduates will receive degrees during Commencement Weekend. That contingent includes @thejaylonsmith Yes, the current @dallascowboys & former @NDFootball All-American linebacker, who took 21 credits this spring #4for40 #GraduatingChampions #CEV
Smith continues his leadership on and off the field, and we all send our congratulations to the Cowboys starting MIKE linebacker!
Ezekiel Elliott Snubbed from Top 25 Players Under 25 List
On Tuesday, Pro Football Focus published it's Top 25 Players Under 25, with Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch one of only three linebackers on the list. Oddly, one of the best players on the team was absent from this same list; Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The running backs they included were Kareem Hunt, Saquon Barkley, and Alvin Kamara. Pro Football Focus has been very open about their dislike of Elliott's 2018 season, ranking him 30th in the NFL according to their player grades.
Elliott has won the NFL's rushing title in two of his three seasons and likely would have won it in 2017 had he not been served with a league-mandated six-game suspension. Elliott ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the 10 games he played, which put him in 10th place in rushing in 2017. Le'Veon Bell led the NFL in rushing that season with 1,291 yards. Using some basic arithmetic, I've discovered that Elliott finished just 308 yards off the league lead in six fewer games.
Despite being the most productive back in the NFL in his first three years in the NFL, Elliott gets knocked because he sees such a high volume of carries and targets from the Dallas Cowboys offense.
On Wednesday, Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus talked about the players who just missed the cut. Here's what he had to say about Ezekiel Elliott.
"There’s no doubt that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the top players at his position, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that his production is, in large part, thanks to the offense that Dallas has built around him. Over the last three years, Elliott ranks first in rushing attempts (868), rushing yards (4048), rushing yards after contact (2567) and first down conversions (219). However, his three-year rushing grade of 80.2 ranks ninth among the 36 backs with at least 300 attempts in that span, while his 0.119 missed tackles forced per attempt ranks tied for 27th among the same group."
Mark Chichester - Pro Football Focus
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best running backs in the NFL, if not the best. There can be an argument for Todd Gurley or Le'Veon Bell, and maybe even Saquon Barkley, but if you aren't including Ezekiel Elliott in the discussion, the discussion is a bit flawed.
For three years, under Scott Linehan as the offensive coordinator, every team in the NFL knows that Elliott is going to get the ball and get the ball a lot. Primarily on first downs. Yet, Elliott continues to be productive and grind out his yards, even against heavily stacked fronts.
I understand the argument that Elliott wasn't very efficient with his touches in 2018, but when you are the primary focus for opposing defenses, it makes it difficult to be efficient. Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamar had the benefit of being coached by Andy Reid and Sean Payton who are considered creative offensive minds. Saquon Barkley had the benefit of Odell Beckham Jr keeping safeties honest.
While the Cowboys had Amari Cooper, the passing game still doesn't get near the respect that the Cowboys run game gets from opposing defensive coordinators. With Kellen Moore on board and the talk about presenting multiple formations for opposing teams to figure out, the Cowboys offense could get more creative in 2019.
Heading into his fourth year in the NFL, it's amazing that Ezekiel Elliott apparently still has something to prove to some out there. After winning rushing titles in two of his three seasons and averaging right around 100 yards a game, Elliott still doesn't get the respect he deserves from national observers.
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