The two big developments of the bye week for the Dallas Cowboys focused on the offense. That was because the problems this season have mostly been on that side of the ball, with the defense having been more effective and consistent through the first seven games. The Amari Cooper and Paul Alexander moves were seen by many as the team not wanting to waste such a strong defensive performance.
But it hasn’t all been great for the defense, either. Two players that were expected to play big roles have had almost no impact so far, DE Randy Gregory and DT David Irving. And now both are dealing with injuries, a knee for Gregory and an ankle problem that just happened with Irving on Thursday.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, though. These two have always been all about potential with nothing more than brief flashes on the field. Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle take a look at the expectations for these two, and if they were way too high.
Michael: I’ve long banged the skepticism drum on both of these players, especially Randy Gregory. But even I have to admit I got pretty excited during preseason when Gregory showed flashes of his college capabilities. I should have known better. Each of these guys is in his fourth year in the NFL and the track record on both says don’t trust either one and don’t get your expectations up.
Irving has at least been able to flash the occasional dominance on the field. But just as it looks like he’s ready to be a more reliable player something happens. Maybe a personal issue. Maybe a drug suspension. Maybe an injury. But it’s always something.
Gregory is different. He’s in his fourth season and has never - at any point - proven he can be an elite NFL player. Generally, when that’s true, there’s no reason to think he will become an elite player moving forward. It’s too bad because you want to root for him as he’s worked his tail off under a severe (and frankly unfair) microscope simply to get back on the field. But expecting him to suddenly blossom into a dominant pass rusher was never realistic and the first half of the 2018 season has confirmed that thinking.
Tom: The problem with both players has never been ability, it has been availability. Due to a combination of suspensions and injuries, Gregory has only played in 20 games since he was drafted in 2015, while Irving has appeared in 37 during the same period - out of 55 regular season games. Both possess impressive talent, they just keep missing games. At least now, they are dealing with injuries, not self-inflicted punishments.
Irving has shown that he can be a force on the field, but he has only been seen in two games this season - and he is credited with a sack, two QB hits, a total of two tackles for a loss, and four tackles overall. Gregory has been in six of the seven games this year, and while he only has one sack, he also has 10 total tackles and four QB hits. I think the production is there if one or both can just get fully healthy.
Michael: We all know Bill Parcells used to say “you are what you are” when referencing a team’s record as the true indicator of a team’s ability. I would say the same with regards to productivity from Irving and Gregory. They are what they are: talented players with loads of potential who, for whatever reason, don’t provide performance. I mean, even now, it looks like neither will play Monday night.
Irving will be a free agent next year and it will be interesting to see what kind of offers he elicits. It only takes one team to decide to throw a bunch of money at him simply because of potential. In all likelihood, he’ll leave Dallas after three seasons of high-end potential that was never met. I hope he proves me wrong over the next nine games. Gregory is different in I think draftniks placed far too much value in “bend” and “athleticism” and not enough in “football player.” I just haven’t seen anything on the field that makes think “wow, this guy’s a great NFL player.” Again, hopefully I’m wrong and he somehow comes along but right now I have no reason to believe that will happen.
Tom: I still see a fairly good chance that one of these players will make an impact before the end of the season, and possibly both. The pass rush has been struggling recently, and it is possible at least part of the issues have come from the injuries both these two have fought this year. We still would have to see them get healthy, but it is kinda impossible to have too much depth on the defensive line.
We still don’t know how severe Irving’s ankle injury is, but if he is able to play at all the rest of the season, the team can use him. He is a tackle, not an end, and there are very few DTs that notch big pass rushing stats, but even in his small sample size there are hints of what he can become. Gregory can be just as valuable, again if he can just get healthy. Irving may attract some big numbers as a free agent, but if he doesn’t, then the Cowboys might get him cheap for another look. And Gregory still has a year to go on his deal, thanks to being banned for a year. Both still have time to prove they are valuable, and as I said, I think the odds are pretty decent that at least one of them will come through.
Michael: I just feel like I’ve been hearing these statements regarding these two for the duration of their careers with the Cowboys. We’re forever talking about what they’ll bring in the future yet have nothing from the past as an example.
Again, I hope you’re right. The promise of a Lawrence/Irving/Crawford/Gregory pass rush is enticing. But that’s all it is - a promise - and up until now it’s been a promise unfulfilled.