With a possible suspension looming over David Irving, which of the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman can help pick up the slack?
David Irving is far from a household name at this point in his career, but there’s no denying the third-year defensive end was supposed to be a big factor for the Dallas Cowboys going forward. After several impressive performances against Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Detroit last season, the pass rusher appeared poised for a breakout campaign.
But after getting busted for alleged PED use, Irving now faces a four game suspension. And Dallas may now have to look for a contingency plan at defensive end to start the season.
There’s no denying the Cowboys’ biggest weakness as a team is their defensive line. While there secondary is also somewhat suspect after losing three starters, it’s the pass rush that serves as the backbone for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme.
However, it’s not as if the Cowboys are devoid of options at defensive end. For starters, they still have DeMarcus Lawrence, who led the Cowboys two seasons ago with eight sacks, but struggled with injury and inconsistent play in 2016. Not to mention like Irving, Lawrence was suspended for the first four games of the season, and never seemed to find a rhythm as the season went on.
Lawrence could be one of the biggest benefactors of Irving’s suspension, and should look to prove himself worthy of a new deal in an all-important contract year. Look for Lawrence to play with a massive chip on his shoulder in 2017.
Then there’s Benson Mayowa, who led the Cowboys with six sacks last season in a limited role. Mayowa’s play drastically improved as the season went on, and should shoulder a larger workload regardless if Irving is suspended or not.
Marinelli is known to get the most out of his defensive players, and this obviously proved to be the case with Mayowa last year. The Cowboys’ brass clearly liked what they saw out of Mayowa, as they re-signed the pass rusher to a team-friendly three year contract in free-agency. He should have every opportunity to make an even bigger impact in Dallas this year.
Then there’s versatile d-lineman Tyrone Crawford, who has been training with former Cowboy great DeMarcus Ware in the offseason. Crawford’s best position still appears to be defensive tackle, but he’s shown the ability to get to the quarterback from the edge, and working extensively with a Hall of Fame defensive end certainly can’t hurt Crawford’s chances at earning additional time at end.
The two biggest x-factors for the Cowboys could be the young duo of rookie first rounder Taco Charlton and redshirt rookie Charles Tapper, who was a fourth round pick of the Cowboys’ last season but missed his inaugural season with a back injury.
Both of these players provide plenty of upside for the Cowboys, but it’s close to impossible to asses the exact level of impact both of these players can provide for Dallas. However, coaches expect both players to make contributions in 2017, and Irving’s possible suspension should only provide additional opportunities for the green defensive ends going forward.
If Irving loses his suspension appeal, my guess is the Cowboys choose to start veterans Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence at the left and right defensive ends respectively. Mayowa will most likely come into spell Crawford on third downs, with Crawford occasionally shifting to the inside three-technique spot.
Tapper and Charlton should also see time on passing downs, as Marinelli likes to keep his rushmen fresh. Regardless of which way Marinelli chooses to finagle his defensive line rotation, each of these players should see their fair share of snaps if Irving is sidelined.