Arguably no Cowboys draft pick in 2021 was more controversial than that of Marshall offensive tackle Josh Ball, who came to the Thundering Herd after his dismissal from Florida State over domestic violence allegations. The Cowboys are certainly no stranger to acquiring controversial players.
Ball profiled as a talented, albeit raw, tackle prospect. He was targeted by Florida State for a reason, and his natural talent helped him dominate the competition at Marshall. As such, he made sense on a strictly football level as a swing tackle candidate with potential to rise higher down the road.
For a Cowboys team that was, at the time, coming off a year in which their offensive line was demolished by injuries, adding such a player made sense. But Ball never saw the field in 2021, making him just as much of a mystery in 2022 as he was in his rookie year.
What He’s Done
What has Ball done with the Cowboys? Nothing, in simplest terms. He was added to the team’s injured reserve before the regular season started and was never activated from it. This was effectively a redshirt year, with the Cowboys stashing Ball on their roster and saving the roster spot for a more veteran player that could contribute right away if necessary.
Considering Ball’s player profile, with many labeling him as someone who was a year or two away from being NFL ready, this was really the best case scenario for him. Ball had the opportunity to spend time in the team’s training facilities, getting to know the players, and learning the style of play that offensive line coach Joe Philbin teaches.
What He Can Do
Last year at this time, the Cowboys’ two starting tackles were Tyron Smith and La’el Collins with Terence Steele and Ty Nsehke competing to be the top swing tackle. Now, Collins and Nsehke are gone and Steele is the starting right tackle, meaning the role of swing tackle is up for the taking.
The Cowboys drafted North Dakota tackle Matt Waletzko in the fifth round of this year’s draft, but he’s not exactly a frontrunner for the swing tackle role. Aviante Collins, who went undrafted out of TCU back in 2017 and spent three years with the Vikings before landing on Dallas’ practice squad last year, is also on the roster.
In theory, the swing tackle job looks to be a three-way race between Ball, Waletzko, and Collins. During OTA’s, Ball appeared to be the first reserve tackle to sub in, suggesting he’s in the lead as of now. But Ball, with no meaningful experience gained from his rookie year, is hardly a safe bet.
The swing tackle is important on its own, but it’s become an especially vital role in Dallas over the last few years. Smith has missed at least three games in each of the last six seasons, while the past two years saw Collins miss extended time as well. If Ball wins the swing tackle job, it seems highly likely that he’ll be asked to play meaningful snaps at some point this season, which would be a huge responsibility for someone who has yet to play a down in the NFL.
In terms of game playing experience, Ball is just as green as rookie Waletzko. Ball, of course, has more familiarity with the players and staff, but both tackles are effectively rookies in terms of being ready to potentially sub in for Smith or Steele in a game. That makes it even harder to forecast who wins this battle, but if Ball is as advertised when he was drafted then it should be his job sooner rather than later.