Dallas Cowboys: New defender could emerge as an impact player
Could this new defender emerge as a real impact player for the Dallas Cowboys within the interior of their talented defensive line in 2018?
The Dallas Cowboys made two trades during the 2018 NFL Draft last month that could have a profound influence on this team for the upcoming season.
First, the Cowboys traded a sixth round selection to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Tavon Austin. The former eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Austin was first described as a “web back” in this Dallas offense by executive vice president Stephen Jones. But it now appears the 28-year old playmaker will be used all over the field, primarily as a wide receiver.
Austin could be a difference-maker for this Cowboys team as a spark plug, igniting an offense that has been missing similar past playmakers like Lance Dunbar and Lucky Whitehead.
The second trade of the draft sent 2017 fourth round wide receiver and primary special teams returner Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders. The moves reunited Switzer with his former special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. In exchange, the Cowboys received defensive lineman Jihad Ward.
Ward was a second round selection out of Illinois in 2016. The 6-foot-5, 295 pound defender figures to compete at defensive tackle for Dallas. And it’s a position where the Cowboys vitally need someone to step up.
Earlier this month, starting defensive tackle Maliek Collins broke his foot, requiring surgery. Collins isn’t expected to return until well into training camp. And as this is his third foot injury, so the Cowboys medical staff will undoubtedly force the former third rounder to take his rehabilitation very slowly.
The Cowboys other starter at defensive tackle, David Irving, missed a whopping eight games last season. Four of those due to a PED suspension. And the other four because of a concussion. And according to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, Irving came into OTA’s out of shape, which does not bode well for his future. Especially considering he is on a one-year deal in Dallas, looking to earn a long term deal.
So the pressure is on to find adequate interior defensive line play that is bookended by one of the league’s premier pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and 2017 first round pick Taco Charlton.
But it remains unclear if Ward is the answer. In two seasons with the Raiders, the 24-year old has struggled with a myriad of injures. Those ailments have included two foot surgeries and a knee operation.
Ward started 13 games his rookie season in Oakland, recording 30 total tackles. But he was widely ineffective. The second-year defender was limited to just five games last season, posting a total of two tackles and a sack.
In Dallas, Ward finds himself with a fresh start and a rare opportunity to get some meaningful snaps early. And according to one insider, the former second rounder is exhibiting some traits that could make him an impactful player for Dallas in 2018.
"“I didn’t realize how easily Jihad Ward moved in person,” wrote football analyst Bryan Broaddus for the team’s official website. “His tape while at Oakland didn’t show that, but it’s a different story when you’re watching live. His initial quickness and lateral ability were impressive. I was surprised by how he was able to redirect without any wasted movement. He was difficult to handle for these guards due to his quickness and power.”"
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Obviously, there is a lot of time between now and the start of the regular season. And Jihad Ward has only just begun to prove himself to this coaching staff. But, at the very least, it appears the Dallas Cowboys have found themselves a recent high draft pick with some traits that could translate well in a position of need. For fans and media members alike, Ward will certainly be one to watch in the coming months.