Position Battles: Who Fills In For Irving?

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FRISCO, Texas – The last stretch of the offseason is upon us. The next time the Cowboys get together, it will be time for training camp. The roster is nearly full and that should mean a healthy dose of competition – at all positions.

In the coming weeks, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will focus on each position to find the most intriguing battles as we get ready for training camp. Today, we continue the series with defensive tackle.

Battle To Watch:​

The tackle rotation just got more complicated with the NFL's recent announcement that David Irving will be suspended the first four regular-season games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Fellow starter Maliek Collins already could be sidelined for at least part of training camp following May foot surgery.

Irving tallied seven sacks in only eight games last year, primarily at one of the two tackle spots in the base defense next to Collins, but now the Cowboys know they'll be without him that first month for the second year in a row. Who takes his spot? Richard Ash filled in for two games last December, and Datone Jones – a veteran signed last November – got first-team practice reps this offseason. But newcomer Jihad Ward might be the most impressive candidate. Arriving in the Ryan Switzer trade with Oakland, Ward capitalized on extra practice reps and showed the type of up-the-field pressure that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants from his interior linemen.

Don't Forget About:

Brian Price, claimed by Dallas off waivers from the Packers last September. The Cowboys' tackle spots are interchangeable in some ways, but Price is more of a true nose tackle adept at stuffing the run. Before undergoing season-ending knee surgery last November, Price appeared in the first eight games and recorded eight tackles with three pressures.

Bubble Watch:

The Cowboys kept eight total defensive linemen, including three tackles, on last year's initial 53-man roster. For now, here's an unofficial guess at how the offseason depth chart stacks up:

Locks:

Maliek Collins - David Irving (suspended first four games) - Jihad Ward

Contenders:

Datone Jones - Brian Price - Richard Ash - Daniel Ross - Lewis Neal - Antwaun Woods

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