(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – Given everything that's happened in the last six months, there's plenty of questions about the players that will actually be on the field for the Cowboys this season.
It wouldn't be a Cowboys offseason without a couple of extracurricular concerns, though.
For the fifth-straight season, this team is dealing with suspension issues heading into training camp -- some of them old, some of them new. On one hand, there's the matter of David Irving, who was suspended for the first four games of the season two weeks ago. The suspension is the second of Irving's pro career and just the latest in a pattern of off-field issues.
And then there's the matter of Randy Gregory. As training camp draws closer, Gregory is attempting to be reinstated to the NFL after a year-long ban. The former second-round pick has played in just 14 games since he was drafted in 2015, and he has notched just one sack. He also hasn't been allowed at the Cowboys' facility in roughly 18 months. It's too early to say for sure, but that could change in a hurry if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell opts to grant Gregory his reinstatement later this summer. Suffice to say, there are plenty of questions about both of the Cowboys' troubled but talented pass rushers.
Which brings us to the first question of our preseason preview:
20) What exactly can the Cowboys expect from Randy Gregory and David Irving this year?
Bryan Broaddus: It's a shame that Irving will once again start the season on the suspended list. When he plays, he's one of the better defensive linemen they have. Without him in the lineup, it does put pressure on a group that is unsettled, depth-wise. It will be important for guys like Jihad Ward, Datone Jones and Brian Price show up to make up for the loss until Irving can return to the lineup. The bigger unknown is with Gregory but intriguing nevertheless. Talent-wise, he is just as good as any of the other ends on the roster with the exception of DeMarcus Lawrence. If Gregory is reinstated, he becomes a part of a deep group of defensive ends. I do like his odds of coming in and making a significant contribution as a rotational player if he can put his past behind him -- but he appears to be on the right path.
Rob Phillips: I still expect David Irving to come back from suspension after the first month and help this team win games. He did the same thing last year, and if a concussion hadn't cost him the final four games, he probably would've tallied double-digit sacks for the season. He absolutely must show the organization that he can be counted on consistently, but this is a contract year for him and a major opportunity to secure his future somewhere, if not Dallas. Now, Randy Gregory? I don't have any concrete expectations. He could get reinstated, and I hope he does, because that would mean he's on the right path in his life. From a pure football perspective, though, we're talking about a young player who hasn't been in an NFL setting in about 18 months and counting. It wouldn't necessarily be a square-one situation, but I don't think you can realistically count on production from Gregory next year if he does return.
Nick Eatman: Unfortunately, the expectations can't be high for either of them, especially Gregory. But really, they're both similar in that it always seems to be something that sets them back. For Gregory, it's been typically one thing but Irving, it has been multiple things. Either way, they're both pretty unreliable at this point. I still don't feel confident Gregory will ever play another snap. I think Irving returns after the four games but I'll be shocked if he plays 12 more. I can't say exactly why, I just feel like it'll be something. Hope I'm wrong on that one because he's a really good player when he's on the field.
David Helman: My expectations for Irving are just a bit higher than Gregory. Irving was suspended for the first month of 2017 and still rebounded to post seven sacks in eight games. On the flip side, we don't even know if Gregory is going to be reinstated by the league. I expect Irving to buckle down and once again be productive for this pass rush – once he can get himself onto the field. I have no expectations for Gregory, but it certainly would be a great story if he can get himself to training camp and earn his way onto the team. Anything after that would simply be a bonus.