The Dallas Cowboys are expected to look internally to fill the void left by nose tackle Stephen Paea, who decided to retire Wednesday because a knee injury prevented him from playing up to his standards.
That decision leaves the Cowboys with only Maliek Collins and Brian Price as true interior defensive linemen on the roster. David Irving has shown his versatility and got several reps at nose tackle against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
But the Cowboys will likely add defensive tackle depth and the internal candidates are practice squad members Lewis Neal and Richard Ash.
Neal, an undrafted rookie out of LSU, flashed in training camp and preseason games. He posted on his Twitter account, @ImBallinNeal18, “Opportunity is all you need. Then it’s about what you do with it! #Patience”
Ash, meanwhile, played in the regular-season finale for the Cowboys last year. He joined the team after spending much of the year with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys have a “number of different alternatives we’ll talk about over the next few days.”
Ash, at 6-foot-3, 314 pounds, would give the Cowboys more size than Neal, who stands 6-foot and 298 pounds, but no determination has been made.
“We have been a little light at the defensive tackle spot,” Garrett said. “We’ve been dressing, essentially, three defensive tackles and five defensive ends for the game. But we have some guys who have the flexibility to go from defensive end to defensive tackle and they’ve played in there. So that hasn’t been a big issue. But we’ll have those discussions and we’ll sort out what that move is going to be.”
Paea, 29, played the first four games at nose tackle and was credited with seven tackles and three quarterback pressures. He was inactive against the Packers and informed the Cowboys of his decision to walk away from the game earlier this week.
“He came in here and he had a knee injury that was preventing him from practicing and playing at the level that he felt like was up to his standard throughout his career,” Garrett said. “We had a good conversation yesterday and he explained all that to me. He was working through it for the last few weeks trying to get himself back but simply wasn’t able to do that.”