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Spagnola: You Just Never Know When Some Defensive Help Falls Out Of Thin Air

IRVING, Texas– Sound the bugles, the cavalry is coming in over the hill for the Dallas Cowboys defense.

         Good gosh, do they ever need reinforcements.

         Why, they finished that Saints game Sunday night tattered and torn. Beat up.

         No Sean Lee, having left the game with a concussion. One play too soon, no Andrew Gachkar, too, limping off with a foot injury.

         They already have been without Orlando Scandrick, his torn ACL old news.

         And still no Randy Gregory, likely missing with a high ankle sprain until after the bye.

         So here they come to the rescue, they hope, one by one. Greg Hardy, suspension served, ready to step in on the defensive line.

         Rolando McClain, suspension served, ready to jump back into the middle of the Cowboys linebacker corps.

         Lee, back in practice Thursday and Friday, head straight and cleared to play, asymptomatic for the concussion he suffered in New Orleans.

         Gachkar back practicing fully this week, too.


         And in the nick of time, since here come those Patriots from New England, the NFL's No.1 offense. The NFL's No. 1 passing offense. The NFL's No. 1 scoring team, at a robust 39.7 a game. Undefeated, and well rested, these 3-0 offensive bullies fully rejuvenated after this past weekend's bye.

         Somehow those bruised Cowboys are hanging on, 2-2, desperately trying to keep their heads above water.

         Though still no Tony Romo, still no Dez Bryant. And now no Lance Dunbar (torn ACL), who just happened to head into that New Orleans game tied for the team lead in receptions and leading in receiving yards. And likely no Brice Butler, he of the 67-yard catch against the Saints, the Cowboys' longest play from scrimmage of the season so far costing him a healthy hamstring.

         Yet, they still must battle to defend their house, AT&T Stadium, 3:25 p.m. Sunday, not even thinking of waving the white flag with only this game to go before heading into their own bye week.

         "Underdogs, whatever, our role is we've got to play well," Lee says. "We've had opportunities in these (last two) games. We haven't finished."

         Now reinforcements are on the way, for sure. But maybe, just maybe, an out-of-nowhere energy boost has landed in the Cowboys' laps, too, if first impressions don't turn into one-hit wonder disappointment.

         Meet David Irving. You might not even have known he played against the Saints. He was the guy in the middle of the defensive line. No. 95. Probably someone most everyone dismissed earlier in the week when the Cowboys announced that they had signed some dude off the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad on Sept. 29.

         Probably elicited no more than a yawn. Rookie. Undrafted free agent. Never had played in a regular-season NFL game. Didn't even play his fourth and final season at Iowa State. Was kicked off the team the spring of 2014 for various reasons, the final one for being present at one of those annual spring college celebrations in Ames, Iowa, He was caught on a Twitter picture with an uprooted stop sign in his hands during a melee and charged with a fifth-degree misdemeanor, two more degrees than we might have thought possible.

         But the Cowboys had done their homework. They were one of a handful of teams that attended his pre-draft workout. At 6-7, 272, he ran a 4.82-second 40. Put up a 38-inch vertical. No josh. Because he had not played that last year for the Cyclones, because of his off-the-field transgressions that cost him his senior year, the Cowboys backed off.

         But still kept him in the back of their minds. Did some more digging into his background. And with the loss of Terrell McClain, knowing they had not gotten much from Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop when they were forced on to the 46-man game-day active roster, they rolled the dice on Irving. Like, come on, what did they have to lose?

         So he arrived at The Ranch on the Tuesday before the Saints game. Practiced in pads on Wednesday, his name above his locker scrawled on highly temporary athletic tape. Saw him standing there that day, all 6-foot-7 of him, a defensive end/defensive tackle.

         My remarks were this: Sure looks the part. Tall. Long arms. Appeared strong for 22 and in decent shape for a practice squader. Reminded me of this defensive end included in the Herschel Walker trade back in 1989, Alex Stewart, who looked like Tarzan, but unfortunately played like Jane and was waived in short time.

         Well, Irving, he looked like Tarzan and played on 24 snaps against the Saints, 33 percent of the game at defensive tackle – 3-technique and 1-technique – and played as well as anyone else has played inside in the previous three games if we take all this into account:

He had not played in any sort of regular-season game at any level since Nov. 30, 2013 with Iowa State.

Was no more than a practice squad guy.

Had never played in an NFL game.

And when he got here last week, even head coach Jason Garrett thought, "No way he'd play" against the Saints.

But the more he practiced last week, the more he raised eyebrows, the combination of his size, his length, and his quick first step, reminding some of now defensive line assistant Leon Lett. Then they saw it again the next day, then again the next day, and the coaching staff figured, "Heck, why not?"

Even Irving was shocked.

"I died on Wednesday," Irving said of his fatigue, knowing the most he had done the first three weeks of the season in Kansas City was service the scout team. "I died (in practice) on Thursday and died on Friday."

He would admit the Cowboys' Wednesday practices, last week and this, "were tougher than any training camp practice I had with Kansas City."

Plus, he had no idea any of this was about to happen. Since the Chiefs were on the road at Green Bay that previous weekend, and since he was on the practice squad, he went back to Ames for the weekend, visited his friends, girlfriend and 2-year-old daughter.

         In fact, when Kansas City signed him to a free-agent contract in the spring, knowing he had not been drafted and knowing teams knew of his somewhat troubled past, knowing he had nothing to put on tape during his last year at Iowa State, he didn't really know how long he'd last. Just brought a few things with him, figuring he'd just wear club issue, "and being a rookie thought I'd get paid for preseason (games)," which definitely is not the case in the NFL, and then buy himself some stuff.

         So when he got the call from his agent while in Ames over the weekend, telling him the Cowboys were signing him off the practice squad to their 53-man roster – guaranteed a three-week stay – he headed back to Kansas City in a hurry, "packed up and go," with little more than the shirt on his back. In fact, there was his Chiefs backpack in his locker.

         "Yeah man, it was crazy," Irving said. "I was on the practice squad, and in my mind, I was going to be on the practice squad the entire season since everybody had been iffy about me because of the off-field stuff. So I was surprised about this."

         Well, after 24 snaps, not only should the Cowboys be surprised by this, but certainly you, too. He finished the game with two tackles, one tackle for a loss and two quarterback pressures. Seriously. Only Nick Hayden and DeMarcus Lawrence had more tackles on the defensive line in that 26-20 overtime loss.

         Definitely no signs of Jane.

         Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was duly impressed, not only by the production, but the fact a guy that tall has the ability to stay low and possess such a quick – and long – first step.

         Irving even surprised himself against the Saints, figuring there was no way he was in good enough football shape to hang in there during a game. Yet, "I got in the game and I was fine."

         Now the young kid was moving slowly this past Wednesday after practice. A little sore, he said, but not bad, and that might be surprising, too, since remember, he had not played in a game of matter since the end of November 2013. He should have been stoved up.

         So even with Hardy back on the D-Line this Sunday against the Patriots, bet on Irving being active, too. Heck, with just six sacks in four games the Cowboys are on pace to finish with only 24 in a 16-game season. And we thought last year was bad with 28, the fewest recorded by a Cowboys team since the 24 in 2002.

         They need pressure players, especially since the Patriots and Brady come to town averaging 359.3 yards passing per game. Especially since tight end Rob Gronkowski already has four touchdown receptions in three games. Especially since the Patriots 119 points scored in three games is one short of averaging a straight 40 a game.

         The Cowboys are in need of a few good men to make life in the pocket uncomfortable for Brady on Sunday if they have any hopes of surviving. The return of Hardy, McClain, Lee and Gachkar should help greatly.

         But don't forget about Irving. No. 95, of nearly "Too Tall" proportions. He's already pitched in some. Enough evidently for a real nameplate to be inserted above his locker on Friday. 

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