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Role Call: John Ridgeway's Path To Playing Time


(Editor's Note: As part of the preparation for training camp, this series will introduce 25 key players who are new to the Cowboys' roster, rookies and veterans alike. The series continues today with rookie defensive tackle John Ridgeway.)

How He Got Here: The Cowboys drafted Ridgeway in the fifth round (No. 178 overall) after he enjoyed a productive transfer year at Arkansas, helping the Razorbacks to their best record (9-4) since 2011. He started 11 of 12 games and posted 39 tackles as Arkansas cracked the FBS top 50 in total defense. He played at Illinois State from 2017-21 before transferring to the SEC for his redshirt senior season.

What's Next: For the second straight year, the Cowboys have drafted a defensive tackle who weighs at least 320 pounds. That's not a coincidence. The arrival of Ridgeway (321) this year and Quinton Bohanna (327) in last year's sixth round represents a personnel shift toward larger interior linemen to help against the run.

In 2020, the Cowboys allowed the second-most rushing yards in franchise history (2,541). In 2021, the defense improved to 16th (1,918 yards allowed) and jumped from 28th to seventh in points allowed per game (21.1), but the 49ers piled up 169 yards on the ground in their first-round upset of Dallas in January.

"This is a real statement in my mind with Dan and (head coach) Mike (McCarthy) as to how we are going to address the run game when we get into the playoffs, which we are sure to have," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said on draft weekend. "Mike was sitting there all day (on Day 3) going, 'Playoffs, playoffs. Remember the playoffs.'"

The Cowboys have established players at defensive tackle (Carlos Watkins, Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa), but Ridgeway will compete for a spot and snaps within the rotation.

Bet You Didn't Know: Ridgeway played a total of 15 games from February 2021 through Arkansas' bowl game on New Year's Day 2022, including four starts for Illinois State last spring. (The Redbirds pushed back their 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

That's a lot of football for two different programs in one calendar year, but it boosted Ridgeway's draft stock.

Quotable: "Definitely just penetration (after the ball is snapped) to blow up the center. If you think about it, the center snaps the ball to the quarterback. If you can blow him up before he gets a snap off or get him scared and want him to hike the ball quick and get out. You just have to play a mind game on him, get him off his game and make sure to get into the backfield. – John Ridgeway on what made him an effective player in college.

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