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The Dallas Cowboys finished the 2017 season with a struggling offense, but it appears the defense is still more of a concern if you ask ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.

In his first mock draft, Kiper has the Cowboys selecting Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea with the 19th overall pick. Fellow ESPN Insider Todd McShay also had the Cowboys taking a defensive tackle in his first mock draft in Christian Wilkins, but he has elected to return to Clemson for another season.

From skill and need standpoints, the selection of Vea makes sense. For it to happen, however, the Cowboys have to break from one of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s long-held truths: Don’t draft run-stopping defensive tackles in the first round.

Marinelli has gotten by and succeeded with players such as Nick Hayden and Stephen Paea at nose tackle. Hayden was underrated in his time with the Cowboys, but he was not a dynamic interior player. Paea’s first season with the Cowboys was cut short by a knee injury.

When the Cowboys lost Paea in 2017, they moved Maliek Collins to the nose tackle spot. He was OK, but the Cowboys came to love Collins his rookie year as the under tackle. He had to play out of position most of the season and was not able to replicate the success he had as a rookie.

However, Vea could be a different story. He is more than a run-stopper. He is a large man (6-4, 346 pounds) with athleticism that saw him move around Washington’s line. He had 9.5 sacks in three seasons.

Kiper is right; the Cowboys don’t have somebody of Vea’s size along their front. They would like to keep Collins as their under tackle. They have gotten by on effort to stop the run instead of brute force. At times, they struggled against the run in 2017 but a lot of that came with Sean Lee off the field.

Vea makes sense for the Cowboys, but to get there they might have to convince Marinelli it is the right move.

Kiper also mentioned wide receiver as a possibility at No. 19. Only one receiver was off his board in Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, who went No. 8 to the Chicago Bears. Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk was the next receiver to go, at No. 26 to the Atlanta Falcons, and SMU’s Courtland Sutton went No. 27 to the New Orleans Saints.

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Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin is recovering from right elbow surgery that will keep him out of the upcoming Pro Bowl but not from the start of the offseason program.

The surgery was a considered a cleanup and nothing too serious. Martin did not miss a game in 2017 and has not missed a game in his career.

The Cowboys hope to pick up talks on a long-term deal for Martin, who has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons, early in the offseason. He is set to make $9.3 million in 2018 under the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but the Cowboys would like to lock him up to a deal that takes him well into the future. Martin has also expressed a desire to remain with the Cowboys.

Left tackle Tyron Smith is also expected to miss the Pro Bowl after he ended the season on injured reserve. He was slowed by back, hip and groin injuries but was placed on injured reserve the final week of the season because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee suffered against the Oakland Raiders.

At the end of the season, coach Jason Garrett said the hope is Smith could avoid surgery. Smith missed three games and most of a fourth because of injuries after missing two games in 2016.

“He has had some different things over the last couple of years that he’s dealt with,” Garrett said the day after the season ended. “We don’t necessarily see it as a trend. He’s still a young player. He’s played a lot of snaps, but physically he seems to be in good shape beyond the specific injuries that he’s had.”

Without Martin and Smith, center Travis Frederick would be the lone Cowboys’ representative on the offensive line at the Pro Bowl. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks, was also picked for the all-star game.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins had left foot surgery to help fix an issue that bothered him from the sixth game of the season on. Collins did not miss a game and moved to defensive tackle when the Cowboys put Stephen Paea on injured reserve. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks and 22 tackles.

Collins had similar surgery on his right foot prior to his rookie season and was limited into training camp, but he managed to start 14 of 16 games and finish with five sacks. The Cowboys do not expect him to have any issues recovering from this surgery.

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David Irving is the ultimate tease.

In eight games, Irving’s seven sacks were second on the defense to DeMarcus Lawrence’s 14.5. He had 19 quarterback pressures. The coaches credited him with 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, six pass deflections and a forced fumble.

“I keep thinking, ‘What if I had played all of the games?’” Irving said. “I probably could’ve got 15, 16, maybe more [sacks]. So I just got to come back next year, stay the hell out of trouble, hopefully don’t get injured and see what I can do next year.”

Irving missed the first four games last season because of a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He missed the final four games because of a concussion. There is nothing he could do to avoid the latter, but he could have done everything differently to avoid the former.

In 2016, Irving had four sacks, five tackles for loss, 26 quarterback pressures, five pass deflections and four forced fumbles, including three in one game. By the end of the season, he was the Cowboys’ best defensive lineman.

There are just not many people on the earth at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds who can do the things Irving can do on a football field.

When he came back from his suspension, he played mostly defensive end, but he shifted inside when the Cowboys moved Maliek Collins to nose tackle.

“Honestly, it doesn’t make any difference; put me at nose guard, left end, right end, three-technique, it really doesn’t matter,” Irving said. “Wherever I can make plays, wherever I can help the team. I’m capable of playing any position on the line, so wherever the coaches need me, wherever my team needs me.”

As for his health, Irving said he is “progressing slowly but surely.” The headaches are less frequent, and he hopes to be working out fully in a few weeks.

“It’s weird, man,” he said. “You’ve just got to rest up. Some days you have good days. Some days you have bad days, but the bad days are not coming as much.”

Consistency has been Irving’s issue, on and off the field. His talent will give him chances others won’t get, but he confounds coaches at times. He did not practice in part of the offseason for reasons not really known. He did not show up for the first reporting day of training camp at The Star before the Cowboys went to Oxnard, California.

Irving’s future depends on becoming more reliable. He is set to be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys are likely to give him the second-round tender in hopes that 2018 becomes the year he puts it all together, on and off the field.

Had Irving already showed he was responsible, the Cowboys might have opted for a long-term deal with a bigger financial commitment.

As he addressed the media Monday, Irving on multiple occasions talked about staying out of trouble, which is likely something he heard from the coaches in his exit interviews.

“You’ve got to be mature,” Irving said. “You have to be an adult. You have to be responsible. When you’ve got something to lose, it’s much easier to stay out of trouble. I’m definitely going to be staying out of trouble.”

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Coming into the season, some of the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest questions were about their pass rush.

Where and whom would it come from?

A year ago, the Cowboys recorded just 36 sacks, and their biggest attempt to improve the pass rush was drafting Taco Charlton in the first round, No. 28 overall. The Cowboys are still waiting for Charlton to get the first sack of his career. Last year’s leader, Benson Mayowa, who had six sacks in 2016, also has been shut out so far.

Yet the Cowboys have 25 sacks in seven games. An unknown has become a strength of the team.

“It doesn’t matter what the outside noise is, man,” defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. “I’ve been taking heat from a lot of people from the outside for a long time. I understand that. A lot of people, a lot of fans don’t understand what’s going on in here and the brotherhood we’ve got and then the type of work we put in. We’ve been good for the last couple of years. It’s just we haven’t been connecting, haven’t been able to get the sack when we needed it. This year we’re connected and doing that.”

DeMarcus Lawrence leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks. He has set a career high in seven games. He has had at least one sack in each of the first seven games. He had one sack all of the past season.

David Irving missed the first four games because of a suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. He has five sacks in three games.

Crawford has four sacks, one short of his career high.

Seven players have recorded at least one sack this season. A year ago, the Cowboys had 13 players record at least a half-sack.

They entered the season hoping a quantity-over-quality approach would work, but they have found that they had more quality in-house than many anticipated.

“Impacting the quarterback is one of the most important things you can do to play good defense, and quarterbacks in a comfortable environment in this league can really hurt defenses,” coach Jason Garrett said. “So what you’re trying to do is make them uncomfortable. And the first way to do that is by rushing them. If you can get your down guys to rush, your four pass-rushers, having an impact on the quarterback’s environment, you’re going to have some success. … Not only have they pressured them, they sacked them, and particularly in the game [Sunday against the Washington Redskins] I think they caused some turnovers, which is the most important thing you can do on defense.”

The Cowboys sacked Kirk Cousins four times in the 33-19 win. Yes, the Washington offensive line was without three starters entering the game and lost two more during the game, but the Cowboys did what they were supposed to do: affect the quarterback.

“I think the D-line has done a great job getting a lot of pressure, strip sacks and making plays,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “You cause more pressure, and you cause turnovers.”

The Cowboys have recorded at least four sacks in four games this season. They had four or more sacks in four games all of last season. The Cowboys did not record their 25th sack in 2016 until Week 14. They are on pace for 57 sacks, which would be the most since they put up 59 in 2008, when DeMarcus Ware was the runner-up for defensive player of the year. Since moving from the 3-4 scheme that served Ware so well to the 4-3 alignment in 2014, the Cowboys have not had more than 26 sacks in a season.

Lawrence is doing his best Ware imitation. Irving has played better than expected off the suspension. Crawford has a sack in three straight games for the first time in his career. Maliek Collins, who has 2.5 sacks, has shifted to nose tackle with Stephen Paea’s retirement.

“Probably individually, with the experience they have, but maybe more importantly than that just playing together and playing off of each other,” Garrett said of the success of the pass rush. “Obviously, David Irving being back in the lineup has a big impact. Tyrone Crawford playing over at the right end spot has been a good home for him. I think he’s settled in over there, and I think he’s having an impact, both as a run defender and affecting the quarterback. DeMarcus has just played very well right from the outset. I think Maliek has done a good job transitioning to play more nose tackle here the last couple of weeks.

“Each of those guys has been good individually, but I think more importantly, it’s playing off of each other — physically and technically, but maybe more so than anything else, emotionally — having a nice, healthy competition to be productive in a ballgame. I think they’re spurring each other on in a real positive way for our team.”

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When the talk about dominant line play is discussed regarding the Dallas Cowboys, it’s assumed widely that it is about their offensive line with All-Pros Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.

In Monday’s 28-17 win against the Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys’ defensive line was the story.

The Cowboys recorded six sacks of Carson Palmer, all by defensive linemen. It was the first time since Sept. 22, 2013, against the St. Louis Rams that the Cowboys had six sacks in a game.

The Cowboys have 11 sacks in three games. They did not reach 11 sacks last season until their sixth game.

DeMarcus Lawrence had the first three-sack game of his career and leads the NFL with 6.5 for the season. He had one sack last season and his career high is eight in 2015. He became the first Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware to have three straight multi-sack games. Ware accomplished his feat over the 2011 and ’12 seasons.

Lawrence is just the third player to open the season with three straight games with more than a sack, joining Mark Gastineau (1984) and Kevin Greene (1998).

“He’s got such a great spirit about him,” Jason Garrett said. “He’s defending the run. He’s affecting the quarterback. He’s making plays that change the game. Just watch him, he’s like a kid out there. He’s running around and he’s got a big smile on his face. That spirit is contagious to the rest of the defense and the rest of the team.”

Maliek Collins added two sacks. He and Lawrence are the first Cowboys defenders with multiple sacks in the same game since Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey had two apiece against the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 14, 2014.

Crawford had the Cowboys’ sixth sack.

“We don’t want to be the byproduct of nothing,” Collins said. “We want to be the show.”

The Cowboys used their three-man front more against the Cardinals than they had in the first two games. Collins and Crawford were able to record sacks with just the three-man pressure.

The Cowboys don’t have big names on their line although Lawrence might be growing into one. Collins had a productive rookie season (five sacks). Crawford is healthier than he has been in two seasons. Benson Mayowa, who led the Cowboys with six sacks a year ago, had a quarterback pressure Monday. So did Taco Charlton.

The pass rush was made better because the Cowboys stopped the run a week after allowing a 100-yard rusher for the first time since the 2015 season finale. Arizona ran 21 times for 49 yards. Chris Johnson carried 12 times for 17 yards. The Cowboys did not allow a run longer than 6 yards.

“Very dominant,” Lawrence said when asked how dominant the Cowboys’ defensive line can be. “We have to focus on us and not our opponents and get better every week.”