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Sullivan: From Taco to Irving, Several Encouraging Signs From Defense

LOS ANGELES - Look, let's not pretend we're at the high-roller tables at the Bellagio when the first and last weeks of preseason football is more like dollar bingo with Aunt Helen at the local senior center.

It's ridiculous to be worried about the 2017 Dallas Cowboys based on a single play against the Rams before a crowd of … well, a crowd that mostly didn't join us at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday night.

However, there's nothing wrong with some optimism. I'm an optimistic person, so that's what we're going to do.

The defense was impressive. Yes, it was the Rams, not exactly an offensive force. Still, after 10 days of all doom and gloom about first-round pick Taco Charlton, the kid was easily the best player on the field, for either team, in the first quarter.

Heck, he had more tackles (3) than Kellen Moore had passing yards (2) those first 15 minutes. This world we now live, after T.J. Watt tallied a couple of sacks Friday night for the Steelers, my guess is, a poll on Twitter of all Cowboys fans, at least 80 percent would say Dallas should have taken Watt over Taco. And you know what, maybe in time, like years from now, that's the case, but come on.

Those complaining about the kid after the Hall of Fame Game, that's irrational. And he really stacked up a couple three or four impressive practices this past week. It's not even mid-August and some were ready to chalk up Taco as a bust. What a world.

Of his first pro sack, Taco said, "It felt good to finally get one and start down a road to many more, I hope."

Finally? It was his second game. I like the sentiment, though. He also added, "It's coming along good. To get my feet wet last week, and come back again and play a little more. I'm starting to get in the feel of the game."

What's most frustrating/absurd about the Taco critics is that Stephen Jones/Will McClay/Jason Garrett should have earned some trust with their last four draft classes. Not saying every pick has been perfect, but I'd be surprised if any NFL team has a better track record since 2012. Also, like the pick who started the successful run, Travis Frederick, the team admitted they had a second-round grade on the player but felt that it was the best selection on the board. How'd that Frederick pick work out? He's likely a top-5 pick, even as a center, if they redrafted that class.

Taco was all over the place, missed a safety by a couple of inches, was running east/west like a MIKE linebacker, and again, this was all in the first quarter against mostly starters for the Rams.

David Irving played well. I'm really perplexed by this dude and not because of his piercings. He doesn't play an average game. I don't understand why he can't give me two tackles and a QB hurry now and again. Instead, he's either this dominant beast of a linemen, NFC Defensive Player of the Week, seemingly capable of stardom, or he's, oh wait, Irving played 35 snaps Sunday. No way, stop it, I think he had the week off, maybe he was out of town. What, he really played 35 snaps. I need to see some film.

Well, Saturday night was the former, Irving was explosive with that first step and more or less unblockable, which is how many of the practices have been the last few weeks. Shame he's suspended for the first four games, hopefully he carried over the momentum of this preseason into October.

The defensive MVP of the practice field this last week was safety Kavon Frazier and that certainly carried over to the game. The team's second-leading tackler with five, Frazier is going to see plenty of snaps this season, I kind of see him doing what Jeff Heath did last season, seeing a ton of action in nickel packages and special teams.

Also thought defensive end Damontre' Moore and linebacker Damien Wilson were solid.

Again, there are three preseason games remaining. We're going to see a lot more of the starters and yes, for all those salivating; Jaylon Smith is expected to play against the Colts on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. And guess what, he's ahead of schedule, the reason he didn't play against the Rams, even though the field was grass, is because the team wants him to have more football reps. For a football player, 18 months without putting pads on is a long time.

Like a lot of the media, I spent some time watching him last week and he's going to be special. I think he plays mostly first and second downs this season, although he drops back in coverage like a young Derrick Brooks, and makes an impact. My guess is he makes a significant leap from this season to next. Remember, he just turned 22 years old in June.

Oh, almost forgot, it was barely a quarter, but Orlando Scandrick looked a lot more like his 2014 self than last season, and that would be huge. I still think the majority don't understand the Pro Bowl level slot cover guy he was for a good three-year stretch before the torn ACL.

So for now, optimism. Remember this was a top-5 defense last season in terms of points allowed, and there is absolutely no reason to believe this unit won't be better.

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