Monday, May 06, 2013

Cowboys Mailbag - May 6 - Draft Aftermath

So much to dive into today so let's just get to your emails:

Loved your thoughtful analysis of the draft in your 4-29 post.  Here is my question.  Lots of folks say DL is a "need" for the Cowboys but I don't understand why.  They have Ware, Ratliff, Hatcher, and Spencer as the starters.  Then they have two of last years picks (Crawford and Wilber) as young talent on DL.  Lissemore also seems fairly solid.  Not saying they can't improve there, but I didn't see it as a glaring need the same way OL was.  Thoughts?


This is a great place to start.  The question remains whether or not the Cowboys actually have a weakness at defensive line and it looks like most observers are torn on this question.  I am not torn, because I am extremely troubled by many elements of this transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3, and the defensive line's lack of depth troubles me the most.

That, of course is why the issues from Pick #18 will be long remembered.  If Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin truly believe that it is wasteful to take a 1 technique in the 1st round - as has been suggested - and they didn't believe there was a true 3-technique left on the board (that Sharrif Floyd was merely a 1-tech and not a 3-tech like the football personnel department believed) then you have the incredibly uncommon likelihood that Marinelli and Kiffin were arguing against taking a player that would have helped them and instead taking offensive players with the first 3 picks.

This is either noble or insane.  I have never heard of positional coaches arguing against adding better players to their group, but by all accounts this is exactly what happened.  Meanwhile, Floyd is 20 years old and it seems like you could turn him into whatever you want him to be with proper coaching and development, but then again, Marinelli has at least been a head coach in this league and we should assume he has some idea of what goes into that (no 0-16 jokes, please).  

The issues with Marinelli and Kiffin having major input is merely the timing.  It keeps coming back to the question of why this disagreement reared up on draft night.  They have months of meetings, we believe, and from the Senior Bowl and Combine to draft night there are internal meetings that go on endlessly.  How this throwdown between Marinelli and scouting didn't happen in late March instead of when the Cowboys were on the clock will never stop being a wonder.  And, if, as it is portrayed, the scouts did a year of work on this player and a positional coach (and a new one) rolls in at the last minute and gets in Jerry's ear is really how the scouts work is valued at Valley Ranch, then we are left with the same conclusions that this entire organizational process is broken beyond repair.

Back to the question from Manish about the relative weakness at DL, this is based on age and contracts.   The starting 4 across the line includes players we all know and respect.  DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, and Anthony Spencer.  

Now, if Sharrif Floyd is a 1-technique by their standards, who is the 1-tech and who is the 3-tech here? In other words, one reason why the 4-3 is appealing is to get Ratliff away from the double teams and 1 on 1 against a guard, which is what the 3-tech is all about.  But, as far as I can tell, Jason Hatcher must be their plan at 3-tech, because he has no place as a 1-tech shade in the A-gap between the guard and center.  Hatcher has been a passing down sub for his entire career, because he has not been seen as a run down solution.  So, to be a run down sub out, and then suddenly thrust into the 1-tech seems crazy. But, if Ratliff is still that guy, then we are asking a guy who had his body break down in 2012 to continue to be a sluggo who is dealing with double teams despite the scheme change and you lose his upside at this advanced time of his career.

Meanwhile, with 2 defensive ends who are 260 or so, we think we know how Spencer and Ware will do, but we are just guessing.  It is projected that it will work, but remember that Marinelli, for instance, is coming from a place in Chicago where he ran this defense with 2 defensive ends in Julius Peppers and Corey Wooten or Israel Idonije who were all considerably heavier and taller than what the Cowboys are trying to do.

And that, of course, says nothing about the idea that Spencer and Hatcher are both about to head into free agency and that Ratliff and Ware are both over 30.  Ware is the most likely to still be here in 2015, but you can see how you might want to start finding replacements for all of them.

So, what is behind them right now?  Tyrone Crawford is the guy that people inside the organization feel the best about, and since he is their 3rd round pick from last season, we better not forget him.  He played 300 snaps last season and while he did not do anything that knocked socks off, he also did not look out of place.  Add to him another 2nd year man in Kyle Wilber (even smaller at under 250) who they think can play defensive end as their replacement and inside man Sean Lissemore and that is pretty much their group right now.

Is it as big a mess as the offensive line was?  Not really, unless you are concerned with what is around the next corner.  The offensive line is present tense, but the defensive line is more of a future tense issue.  However, what has killed the Cowboys?  Lack of depth to deal with an injury.  And if Ratliff pulls up lame in training camp, what is the plan?  Full-time Lissemore at the 1-tech?  It looks like it would have to be.

I have no issue with trading back to get 2 starters for pick #18 because actually that makes sound common sense.  The issue is then spending your top 3 picks and really your entire draft without doing anything to help this group at all.  I find that flirting with disaster and don't forget what we talked about last fall after the Offensive Line situation reared its head against Cleveland again:

It isn't coaching.  It isn't effort. 

It is, however, another indictment on the continuing failures of this current front office.  I am sure when the 2012 season ends, like the secondary last spring, we will hear how fixing the offensive line in 2013 is the top priority.  And they will use many of their resources to attempt to do just that.  But, why it takes years for them to see things that are obvious to those watching their games remains a mystery. 

Then, if it is fixed, the shell game of personnel fixes will move to another department of the squad that will be overdue for renovations, too.  These are the effects of too many mistakes over the years in the personnel department.  The holes out-number the plugs, and before long, you have issues that cannot be addressed because you are out of picks and cap space.

Once you leave the port each August for another season at sea, you cannot replenish your supplies until the season voyage is over.  Meanwhile, in the middle of it, you are stuck with whatever you took with you.  From week to week, as people complain about the coaching and the players, those who remain on the voyage do the best with what they have.  But, clearly, what they have is not good enough, and no amount of effort is going to fix the issues for the long-term.
In 2013, they will leave port with a defensive line that might work but the best case/worst case scenarios are wildly problematic if there is one false step this year.

Of course, he did.


Just some random observations on another massively confusing Cowboy draft:

(1) Just for grins, I looked up the Ravens Super Bowl offensive line to see when they were drafted and by whom.  

Oher (BAL, 1st round in 2009), Osemele (BAL, 2nd in 2012), Yanda (BAL, 3rd in 2007).  That's right, three of the five Super Bowl starters were young guys drafted in the first three rounds.  Another high pick, Jah Reid (BAL, 3rd in 2011), would have started in the Super Bowl but for a season-ending foot injury right before the playoffs.  By the way, with Matt Birk's retirement, another young homegrown player, Gino Gradkowski (BAL, early 4th in 2012), is slated to take over at center.  That's an entire line of guys taken in the first hundred picks, in the last five or six years.   Compare that to the Dallas model -- bottom sixty picks and undrafted FAs, coupled with high-dollar, low-skill FAs.  Draw your own conclusions.

(2) Dallas is making a monumental leap of faith that Ware and Spencer will transform from edge 3-4 OLBs  into over-the-end-or-tackle ends in a 4-3.   The Cowboy front office has even intimated that Ware and Spencer will be used like JPP in New York, which means moving him inside and out, all along the line.  But JPP has about 30 lbs. on each of Ware and Spencer.  And he's 24.  I just don't see Ware or Spencer holding up in anything like the same role.  Yet that seems to be the linchpin of Jerry's entire defensive plan.   And don't even mention the aging, declining Jay Ratliff.

Dave in Tulsa

Thanks, Dave.  In the week's to come, I plan on taking apart some of Kiffin's playbook and scheme in a little more depth to discuss how this can work.  Hint: a lot of what they do is based on keeping their linebackers clean to fly and make more of the plays - especially the Mic and Will.  But, it also is predicated on getting home with 4 most of the time and that will continue to be where the rubber meets the road on this particular issue.

As for investment on the "bigs" over the skill guys, there is no question that this is not of interest to Jerry Jones and no matter how long I write about the Cowboys investing in WR, CB, RB, and TE, will always outnumber their investment in DE, T, G, and DT, it won't change it.

Here is one of the many places I have discussed it over the years how teams like the Ravens, 49ers, and Giants have spent a lot of time in recent years investing in "bigs".  But, after taking big Frederick this year, the Cowboys then went TE, WR, S, CB, RB with the next 5 picks.  They are who they are and that won't change when the decision maker hasn't changed.


Please clarify which is better: a fast 40 time for a Center or a guy who can squat over 730 lbs? 

I would take the latter, if may sound contrarian to most people who want a really fast Center. Although running fast is not in the job description but being able to fire off is ideal for centers. 

My two cents, 


You have my full support on this.  I think Travis Frederick is going to be a solid addition to the Cowboys and I have no concerns about his speed.  He is a guy Wisconsin pulled in front of Montee Ball on many sweeps and he was proficient at what he did.  

But, his real pros are his ability to be strong, and although I have heard a media member or two question his strength, I can assure you it is not an issue.  He is football strong and weight room strong, and perhaps this story from a few years back would be of interest to anyone questioning it.  

What happens in the weight room, stays in the weight room. 
That explains why sophomore left guard Travis Frederick would have been happy if University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema didn’t tell the world that Frederick squatted 730 pounds in the spring. 
Frederick, who carries 330 pounds on his 6‑foot‑4 frame, is proud of the staggering accomplishment. In the weight room, players are driven by numbers, always trying to set personal marks or reach new goals. Even a new best by five pounds can set off a wild celebration. 
Even the other offensive linemen are amazed at the things Frederick can do in the weight room. 
“He is by far the strongest, most bear-like human being I’ve ever seen, or had the pleasure of being around,” senior right guard Kevin Zeitler said. 
For some perspective, the combined weight of UW’s starting linebackers is 715 pounds. So it’s like Frederick strapped those three to his back and did a deep-knee bend. 
“He’s sick,” sophomore guard-center Ryan Groy said. “I don’t even want to watch him when he does that kind of weight. That’s not human.”
Offensive line coach Bob Bostad emphasizes squat totals in recruiting, since leg and core strength are integral to playing the position.
Frederick will have to prove he is quick enough to seal off the gaps against quick, but against big, he will be fine.  

Thanks for your emails.  We will do more again soon.   

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