Monday, May 02, 2011

New Rafael Vela Chat

Rafael Vela:So, what's on your draft-addled mind this morning?

Bob Sturm: Thanks for the time this morning. Plenty to discuss since we last talked. Well, initial thoughts on the events of the NFL Draft, as it pertains to the Cowboys, of course

Rafael Vela: Like the front and the back. I'm thinking over day two, which gave a lot of people some indigestion, judging from comments, and post-draft grades.

Bob Sturm: Yes. I feel quite similar to that assessment. It sure seems that I would label Day 2 as pretty much "paying for previous sins".

Rafael Vela:: Where do you want to begin there?

Bob Sturm: Bruce Carter. Quite possibly a wonderful player - although the tape I see is rather mixed. But, I would have a much more open mind if this pick wasn't also made in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010. Inside nickel cover linebacker with sideline to sideline capabilities.

Rafael Vela: They're projecting him as a 3-down player to have taken him so high. The question for me is their thinking process in projecting him inside.

Bob Sturm: There is no way this franchise should have spent a 1st, 3 2nd's and a 3rd on this low priority spot in 7 drafts. And have fewer than 5 starts so far between all 5 players!

Rafael Vela: Carpenter, the less said the better. Jason Williams? The same. Lee and Carter will have to answer. I think the question about Bruce Carter, as you've said, comes down to the non-production of the Parcells and Wade era ILBs. I was looking up Kevin Burnett last night. The charge in Dallas was he was too light, played at 228 his last year here. He's listing at 240 in San Diego and he produced for them. Two solid years, had six sacks last year. that would have put him what, 2nd on the Cowboys?

Rafael Vela: I don't have a problem with going after a spot if you feel you have to fill it and the picks you've made have not panned out. Trying again is better than denying the first pick or picks were busts. I do wish they could hit, however. Well, Carpenter was drafted to play Anthony Spencer's role, They kicked him inside because he couldn't do it.

Bob Sturm: Yes. I just find it dubious when people suggest Lee and Carter could be running the middle together for the next decade. With Burnett and Carpenter reaching the age of their prime, I realize that there are no sure things in the NFL. But, I suppose previous failures should not scare you off a 3-down player. If he is what they say he is, then the Cowboys will be pleased. How about the ACL. Bothered that a speed LB is coming off a knee injury?

Rafael Vela: I think the drafting players injured is what has people going nuts more than anything. Burnett, Lee and Carter all rehabbing. ACL's don't bother me. People do recover from them. It's the time-table. This is a 2nd round pick. Will he be able to play this year, or will he miss all of camp trying to work that joint back up to strength and then become Sean Lee, a guy trying to catch up all year?

Bob Sturm: Wow, I forgot that about Carpenter. They actually thought he could be an edge rusher in a 3-4? He is 27 years old. Jason Williams in 25. There is why we have so many holes around here. That should be the backbone of your roster. 24-28 year olds, that is.

Rafael Vela: In their best dreams, I think Dallas sees Carter in this year's nickel, and then stepping in for James next year. Can he at least deliver that nickel part. That's important, because as crazy as it seems, you know they missed Carpenter in the nickel last year, cause they cut him without having a replacement on board. Watching Brooking and James playing every down was painful, and one of many reasons that defense fell apart.

Bob Sturm: What is Lee's role this year under that premise?

Rafael Vela: I think Lee is expected to be the starter this year, putting Brooking into a rotation. or less, for him. But we can't go off Wade's blueprints any more. It's Rob Ryan's show.

Bob Sturm: I sure hope that happens. That would make me feel much better about this investment. The declarations that Brooking is on the roster this weekend seemed a bit premature, but they are going to do what they want to do.

Rafael Vela: Let's see what he can do. I've heard really good things about Rob's linebackers coach. They got more from less in Cleveland. Old Scott Fujita did really well for them. Whatever we say about them, these are better linebackers, across the board, than Ryan and Matt Eberflus had there.

Bob Sturm: OK. Let's visit about the RB situation. Other than the national media, everybody knew Barber was gone regardless of selecting a RB in the 3rd Round. What does DeMarco Murray tell us about Felix and Choice?

Rafael Vela: Murray suggest to me that Jason Garrett wasn't fully comfortable with either of them. Let's look at this ''three headed monster.'' ( You have no idea how much I hated that term) Barber kept getting lower body injuries, and playing lead blocker for himself aged him in dog years -- every season was like seven for you and me.
People were calling for Choice last year, and Garrett kept running Barber out there. The reason? I think it was because Garrett could trust Barber to block for Romo. Early on, I saw Tashard whiffing or using some, low-level-blocking-enthusiam, shall we say, and Romo took some belts as a result. When you're in your third year and calling for more time, that's not gonna help your case. Felix was finally healthy, but was he the same shifty Felix? Who could you trust? Who can you trust in 2011 if you're Jason Garrett?

Rafael Vela: I think DeMarco Murray will start on day one of camp with a chance to seize this job. I don't automatically pencil him in as the number 3. Felix and Tashard have not earned automatic rotation roles. That's why I think Dallas took a back so high. You and I talked about the line making the backs look bad. I think Murray's pick suggests the team thinks it was the line AND the backs.

Bob Sturm: At the heart of any Tashard Choice discussion is clearly the thread of "do the coaches think he is 25% as good as some fans seems to"?

Rafael Vela: Some fans think Choice would be Superman in cleats, but that's the way it is when you're the backup. They treated Barber the same way when he backed up Julius Jones. And they turned on him in a hurry the second he got injured. They'll turn on Tashard just as fast if Murray rips off some big runs in his first preseason games. That's just the way it goes.

Bob Sturm: My thinking on that pick was what it told us about Choice's skill set. Let's talk about Murray's durability issues as well. I get very concerned when my big Sooner buddies were shocked at this pick. I like his skills, but anyone has to see diminishing explosiveness as his career in Norman went on.

Rafael Vela: I didn't follow OU so I can't really say. He missed what, five games his entire college career? He's not going to be an 18 carry, 24 touch guy in Dallas. No back will get that load. But somebody is going to get the lead -- 14-15 carries and 4-5 passes a game. I think he's in the mix. 24 touch a game, I should have said.

Bob Sturm:Yes, he played through a lot. Didn't miss games as much as he tried to play hurt and saw his productivity really suffer. Seems like a pick that could really fly, but I keep coming back to Felix/Mendenhall etc. I have a lot of baggage from drafts gone by that I need to work through.

Rafael Vela: You need a short memory. Look Jeff Fisher took three backs in the 1st or 2nd round, trying to get his lead back. He didn't like what he had, then hit with Chris Johnson, who was his 4th crack at it. I you think it's important, you keep trying until you get it right.

Bob Sturm: That is all well and good - and Carter and Murray have tremendous upside (draft cliche). But if I am going to do that, Mr Vela, I have to accept that Olshansky and Bowen are still my defensive ends; Ball and Sensabaugh are still my safeties. etc... And that means that I have to either sign a lot of free agents or I am in a world of hurt.

Rafael Vela: No, I don't think so, at least on the safeties. I think you will see Olshansky and Bowen at DE, but they said it a few times during the press conference, they have players they like in free agency, regardless of the system. And we all know this was an awful draft for safeties. I'm glad they didn't push one, or be like Denver and push two. They did go after a late 1st round DE, from all indications and Cam Jordan seems like the guy. We don't know what they were offering or how close they came. I guess the questions are, what DE could they have gotten in the 2nd. I broke down their 2010 draft board, cause they were kind enough to expose it the cameras last year, and they had Sean Lee and Navarro Bowman in their top 20. Going off their templates, I'm going to guess Bruce Carter was in their top 20-24 rated players. Once they decided to go Tyron Smith in the 1st and could not pull off a DE move up, they're out of the sweepstakes, as Garrett said, cause they were gonna go off their board and I'm pretty sure there was no D-lineman left in the 2nd close to Carter in their eyes. We might not like how they grade players, but they have to follow their board.

Bob Sturm: Ok. So, were you amazed at Murray over Rackley? Or does that sit ok with you?

Rafael Vela: I'm okay because they took David Arkin in the 4th. Look Rackley is a small-school guy. He wasn't going to be a starter this year. He's about 6-7 lbs. heavier than Arkin but either one of them is wearing the red shirt. Ask yourself this -- if Dallas had taken Rackley in the 3rd and gotten Murray in the 4th, would they be any closer to having a rookie starting guard then doing what they did? I don't think so.

Bob Sturm: Perhaps. I guess I talked to a scout or two that thought Rackley was closer to plug and play. I won't pretend to have any idea what Arkin is capable of until we get to camp. But, I have earmarked Jacksonville to keep an eye on the Lehigh kid.

Rafael Vela: Okay, I've seen neither, so I'm going to wait and see. I'll say this, Arkin looks athletic.

Bob Sturm: OK. Let's spend some time on Day 3. I want to direct some people to your story from this morning at your site. But, let's spitball about guys we likely know very little about. Impressions of Day 3?

Rafael Vela: Jason Garrett made a very telling comment in that presser Saturday. He said he wants a physical team and a tenacious one, But he stressed that you have to be athletic, because you can't be dominant without it. I took this as a shot at the big, flabby sluggos who wore down in December and January each of the last few years. Here's shorthand -- the O-line in the Giants playoff loss in '08. You know what I'm talking about. A 20 play drive to end the 2nd quarter and nothing in the 2nd half. He's making a point about conditioning and player types. Seeing that Arkin is a radically different body type than Robert Brewster, or Montrae Holland, tells me to give him a chance.

Bob Sturm: Amen to that. Don't get me started on taking Brewster in the 3rd Round with that body!

Rafael Vela: Day 3 looks pretty good, on first glance. They hit need positions -- two interior O-linemen, a cornerback with some upside, a receiver and a fullback who looks like he could be the starter this year.

Bob Sturm: I feel like you are a fan of what Dwayne Harris may bring to the party....

Rafael Vela: He's a central casting Cowboys receiver -- 6'1'', 205. He's a physical and productive guy. He doesn't sound like he'll be a superstat, because he's not a burner, but he reads like a young Patrick Crayton. And speaking of guys the Cowboys missed in 2010, they missed him.

Bob Sturm: Underneath slot guys are a big need here. Especially if we are losing faith in the Ogletree project.

Rafael Vela: They made a lot of budgetary cuts last year, trading Crayton, flipping Carpenter out and got nothing in return. Ogletree and Hurd did little as the slot guys, they had not nickel LB to replace Carp, and let's not touch Alex Barron, okay?

Rafael Vela: And that cost them games. John Phillips torn knee left them with no FB, so they rolled the dice on a UFA and Chris Gronkowski played like one. Worked his butt off, but he got Tony Romo on IR.

Bob Sturm: They seem to realize that reserves either need to play on your special teams (a lot) or they better be pretty special. And that is the issue with RB/WR right now in many respects. It is not easy to fill these spots. 45 man roster; 4 or 5 specialists. That leaves about 40. Take your starters and sluggos off the list and that leaves about 16 or 18 guys to fill all 4 special teams and fill out your reserves. I love doing the math of how you assemble a game day roster in the NFL. So much to worry about. Even before in-game injuries.

Rafael Vela: Right. The way I see it, they drafted a new backfield, a starting RT and two Gs. The guards are ''in-the-pipeline'' guys but I think they're looking for Arkin to give them something next year. A lot of people would be happier if they took the guard in the 2nd or 3rd, but they did address it.

Rafael Vela: Yep. And one of the biggest mistakes they made last year was clearing out the core of their special teams. Now, a lot of those guys did nothing BUT special teams, the Pat Watkins types, but they did give value. People hate hearing it, but I think these guys are being looked at as teams players in addition to situational play. I'm thinking of Josh Thomas, Harris and Chapas here.

Bob Sturm: Fullback has proven to be a lot more difficult to fill than you would think. It seems like a minimal role in this offense, but Deon to Gronkowski to Chapas tells us they are still trying to get it right. But, if it is an indicator that Garrett wants to run some "21" and "22" personnel and establish a physical tone, then let's do it.

Rafael Vela: It goes beyond the ''true'' fullback. They've been trying to get a quality lead blocker. Add Fasano, Hoyte and Polite to that list. I've seen an Ernie Zampese playbook, and what amazed me was the number of *passing plays* the fullback factors in. I think this is why they've been trying to convert tight ends into F-backs, who can lead block and run routes. The Polites, Hoytes and Deon Andersons offered nothing as receiving threats. They were playing 10-on-11 whenever they tried throwing with those guys on the field. Having a true fullback, in the Moose Johnston mold, is a huge get. I don't know if Chapas can fill the role, but he's a major addition if he can. John Phillips has the game, and Chapas gives them two guys who can fill the Moose shoes.

Bob Sturm: What a crazy scene now with all of the undrafted free agents in limbo. Do they get jobs? Do they hang out? I feel for those guys. And there are some notable names in that group that now might have to wait months before they know if they are NFL players or not. And even then they might just have a short camp to show their wares...

Rafael Vela: You know the Cowboys have guys they like. There are some interesting guys who went undrafted. I've seen that the teams can't have contact with these guys, but I find it hard to believe that the agents are not getting some types of hints if a team like their client or clients.

Bob Sturm: Let's stop here until next time. Well played, sir. Check out Rafael's stuff at - fresh stuff all of the time.

Rafael Vela: As always, Bob, thanks. Let's do this again soon.

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