Today, let's go over a bunch of smaller issues in this week's Bag of Footballs. The Cowboys season is certainly in a time of the year where we can work on some projects and deal with some business issues, so let's crack open a few of those items here:
The future of La'el Collins
If you follow me on Twitter, you likely are aware that this has caught my interest quite a bit today. La'el Collins is a very valuable and under-discussed resource the Cowboys currently have on their roster that represents an added component to the 2015 draft that must be remembered.
The Cowboys were coming off their 2014 season to remember and their gutting defeat to Green Bay (sound familiar?). They just needed a draft to put them over the top. Yes, Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, and Chaz Green are the 3 picks will always be listed in the history books for what the Cowboys accomplished 24 months ago on the first 2 days of the draft, and the returns on those 3 range from Jones (Pretty decent) to Chaz Green (disappointing and still thought of as quite a reach from the moment I heard the pick until this very moment) to Randy Gregory (I had such high hopes, but he definitely made everyone's worst fears come true).
What we don't always recall as easily is the important acquisition (and incredibly mysterious one, too) of La'el Collins. Collins was thought of as a high first-round prospect who could play tackle or guard in the NFL and had an untimely brush with the law before the draft that never turned into anything legitimate. So, as Jerry Jones will do better than anyone, he made the call and closed the deal that basically gave the Cowboys an additional first- round pick.
From there, Collins rewarded their efforts quickly. 2015 provided several jaw-dropping examples of his ability - he is #71.
Collins was pretty good in limited duty in 2015 -- he provided some highlight-tape stuff as well as some rough edges that needed work -- and then spent most of 2016 injured with a toe situation that required surgery.
Well, now, he is healthy, and with Doug Free's retirement, the right tackle situation seems to have a clear leader. They also wanted him to replace Ron Leary at left guard, but that seems like a much lesser concern at the moment and frankly, if you can't find a guard to hold up between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, that would be disappointing. Any replacement-level guard should be fine between 2 All-Pros, so the real concern is the right flank. Free had his share of complaints filed by fans and media, but he fought his tail off and seldom was seen as a liability. He just wasn't on an All-Pro level, so he stood out sometimes.
But now, they need a right tackle and Zack Martin might be the best player for the part, but they aren't moving him off of right guard after he has played so well there to another All-Pro level. Chaz Green has never proven to have either the health or the technique to hold up there, so I was never buying that was their first idea. He needs to simply show he can appear at daily activities for a month straight before I seriously consider his upside as a starter in this league for a full season. So, again, we are back at Collins.
Is Collins a perfect idea there? No. He was considered a guard at the NFL level because speed rushes on an island may give him fits. Vic Beasley coming off the edge is going to give him too much speed, so they thought at the NFL level, he better stick to guard. But, now, he is their best choice to try and develop him. If it works, they could have their next pillar on the line.
Either way, he cannot be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2018 season (I know there are some reports to the contrary, but we have double-checked), so some more cheap labor for sure for the Cowboys.
The new defensive depth chart
I love looking at these over at Ourlads.com to see what everything looks like at the moment. Here is their latest depth chart for the defense with the rookie draft picks in green:
It looks right to me, especially if you are going to make the rookies all earn their spots. I think they have the safeties mixed up, with Heath as a SS and Jones as the FS. Also, I doubt that Tyrone Crawford is a DE and I don't really see Joey Ivie as a 3-technique, but this will do. And, for fun, let's see how the depth chart looked for Week 16 in Philadelphia. I made some alterations with the red pen to show you guys who have departed. So, in a way, this was how the shelves looked when the offseason opened:
They lost quite a bit, but when you add Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper to the list of players they grabbed in green, I think you can argue this is a very talented (and very young) group of athletes to defend the capable offenses on their schedule this season.
Defensive coverages and terms
One thing I like to do in the offseason is to try to define some things that are out there in the Cowboys world with vernacular and such that will hopefully help enhance your Cowboys viewing and understanding. I don't have all of the answers, but I am a guy who seeks them and tries to share my findings -- as well as adjust them as necessary -- to make sure we leave no eager football fan behind.
So, the two concerns I wanted to discuss in our remaining space are the following from this latest draft class. 1) Why is there so much discussion about whether Taco Charlton is a strong side or weak side defensive end and what does it all mean? and 2) What coverages do the Cowboys look for when they are drafting corners and what do they like to play the most? So, let's get to those:
There have been plenty of people asking me about this guy and that guy and why do you media guys talk like all of this matters so much? Yesterday, I had people citing Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher as two examples of guys who were fine as strong side defensive ends. The trouble is that Anthony Spencer was an outside LB in a 3-4 defense when he had his 11-sack Pro Bowl season in 2012. That means he is not playing the DE spot, it was mostly Marcus Spears. So, that one won't hold much water. Then, when Hatcher had his huge 2013, that was at the 3-technique, because your defensive ends were George Selvie and the final season of DeMarcus Ware.
When people talk about strong side/weak side, they, of course are talking about the traditional football terms that we have used for decades to match up with an offense in 21 personnel. In 21 personnel, an offense would have a tight end on the outside of the right tackle to make that the strong side. So, your left defensive end would be strong side and would be bigger and stronger against the run. Your best pass rusher would then go weak side (away from the tight end) at right defensive end and have a 1-on-1 battle on the edge with the left tackle who was no doubt the best pass protector.
Now, the problem with all of this is that traditional football and modern football do not always meet anymore, and with nobody playing 21 personnel and almost everyone in 11 personnel and in shotgun, things have modified. Both your tackles better be able to pass protect on an island, because defenses are trying to put pass rushers on both sides, because they know you are passing 60% of the time and they will be in nickel 70% of the time.
So, the premiums are now on defensive ends to get to the QB and they aren't as worried about being stout against the run. And, your right tackle better be nearly as good as your left tackle at dropping in pass-pro. It is a different game than it used to be.
How does all that apply to Taco Charlton? I suggest his best position might end up being DT -- at least in nickel, because he doesn't appear to be a classic edge rusher. They might get him there, but as I pointed out a few weeks back, the top 12 edge rushers in the league last year were all 265 or smaller. He is going to be 280. This isn't to say the big man can't get sacks -- JJ Watt gets them plenty, but the league seems to be valuing smaller and more twitchy quickness around the edge these days. I am curious to see how this all works.
So, you are looking for corners who can play your scheme. But, what is your scheme? Oh, Rod Marinelli? Cover 2, say the national talking heads!
Wrong. Or is it?
Here is the truth. Knowing and reading coverages is a very difficult proposition. The truth is, every team has its preferences, but no team runs the same coverage all the time. They have their favorites, but like a baseball pitcher, they have to vary their approach to keep the opponents off balance.
Basically, they ran Cover 1 (Man) nearly 50% of the time and 2 different zones roughly 25% and 25% each. So, they preferred Cover 1, but in the final analysis, they ran zones slightly more. And, they would vary week to week based on who was healthy and who they were playing. You won't defend Aaron Rodgers and Tyrod Taylor the same. They didn't.
So, I tell you all of that to tell you I am now about to get started on 2016's coverages to make sure they didn't alter things too much. Since they already selected their corners for 2017, we should take some hints, but we should also know that they need defensive backs, like everyone else, that can do it all well.