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David Irving looks to go from tease to cornerstone piece of Cowboys

David Irving's future with the Cowboys depends on if he can become more reliable -- both on and off the field. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

FRISCO, Texas -- 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.”