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Why David Irving’s suspension provides big opportunity for Jihad Ward & Datone Jones with Cowboys

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Jihad Ward and Datone Jones will have a huge opportunity ahead now that the entrenched starter is suspended.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Arizona Cardinals vs Dallas Cowboys Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Another offseason, another defensive player getting suspended for the Dallas Cowboys. David Irving, who’s had his personal life scattered through the media this offseason will be suspended for the second straight year in a row. Last year, it was PED’s, this year it’s substance abuse. It’s always something with David Irving, which is why his long-term future with the team is constantly in question. Enough about Irving’s extracurricular activities, what does it mean for the defensive tackle position, most importantly the three-tech?

The Cowboys’ current situation at defensive tackle isn’t great. As Jason Garrett mentioned earlier in the week, Maliek Collins will likely not be ready by the start of training camp. Collins has shown in the past that he doesn’t need every practice rep to be effective. He had a similar situation occur in his rookie season and bounced back with five sacks. Still, we’re really not all that certain if the Cowboys want Collins at the three or one.

All we do know at this point is that two guys have been getting the majority of the reps at both spots and their names are Jihad Ward and Datone Jones. The Cowboys won’t find much comfort on the free market as we detailed a month ago. Unless someone gets released, the Cowboys are best to stick it out with what they have.

The good news is that Jihad Ward’s praises have been sung several times during the OTA’s and minicamps by the likes of Bryan Broaddus. Paraphrasing his comments on “Talkin’ Cowboys”, he claimed that it wouldn’t surprise him in the least bit for Ward to earn a starting job come week one.

Ward has flexibility like Collins to play both the three and one tech positions. The Cowboys, more specifically Rod Marinelli, are really high on Ward’s potential, something that dates back to Marinelli’s time coaching him in the Senior Bowl a few seasons back. Our own Connor Livesay had this to say about Ward last week:

“The second guy in the mix for a big role is newly acquired defensive lineman, Jihad Ward. The Cowboys traded Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for Jihad Ward during the NFL Draft after acquiring Tavon Austin, also via trade. Ward played defensive end and defensive tackle in Oakland’s 4-3 scheme, which is likely a similar role he’ll play here in Dallas.

Ward is expected to also play both the 1-technique and the 3-technique, while also likely getting some reps at strong-side defensive end. Ward is also another big body in the interior of the defensive line weighing in at 6-foot-5, 295-lbs.

Jihad Ward is a guy both Rod Marinelli and Will McClay fell in love with at the 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Ward is a high-motor guy with some really intriguing traits both physically and athletically. After a slow start to his young career, Ward is looking for a resurgence with the Cowboys, and the Cowboys are hoping he can finally reach his ceiling, which is high.”

Ward certainly has done enough to impress a few coaches and onlookers throughout the OTA process, but don’t forget about Datone Jones. The Cowboys loved what they saw in the seven games Jones played for them last season. Plays like this one really show his potential:

Jones is another option with flexibility to play both spots but has been working primarily at the three-tech throughout these offseason practices. As Connor points out, Jones has a lot of things the Cowboys like, including the pedigree of a former first-round pick:

“The first guy who is expected to play a large role with Collins and Irving sidelined is Datone Jones. Jones, a former first-round pick, signed with Dallas after being released by the San Francisco 49ers after just three games.

In his short tenure with the Cowboys in 2017, Jones was able to see action in seven games (starting two) and registered a sack against Philadelphia in week 17. While you may not be wowed by the stats, Jones was disruptive in the playing time he received in Rod Marinelli’s defense.

The 6-foot-5, 288-lb defensive lineman has experience playing both end and tackle, but fits in nicely as a 3-technique in Marinelli’s scheme. Jones does have the size and strength to play the 1-technique if need be, but he can make the biggest difference from the three.”

These two guys have been working hard to show they have what it takes and now the audition process just extended. In reality, if Irving comes back and has 10 sacks, nobody will really make much of a fuss about those first four games. However, one of the most important aspects of pro football is dependability. Irving has done nothing to show he can be there when you need him, no matter how explosive he is when he’s in action. The Cowboys really have no choice but to move on with him on the back burner of their minds.

Even though Irving can still participate in training camp, the Cowboys should really think about giving those valuable practice reps to Ward and Jones. The Cowboys wanted to create competition at every level and now they just have to let it all play out.