[Ed Note]: This fine article was promoted from the FanPost section and was penned by BTB-member DannyWhite. An excellent piece of work. We'll be promoting more articles from the FanPost section over the coming months, so keep posting! [End Note]
Since the announcement that Monte Kiffin was coming on board as the new Defensive Coordinator for the Cowboys, bringing with him the
Tampa Dallas-2, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth pondering, by pundits and fans alike, as to whether the Cowboys roster had the type of defensive players needed to make that transition work.
Some of our players seem tailor-made for this new alignment. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are literally prototypes for the Mike and Will LB positions, respectively. Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne are physical corners who like to play press coverage, and should be stout on the perimeter. DeMarcus Ware should excel as the weakside DE, a position that he has essentially played for the last 3 years whenever the Cowboys were in the nickel. Anthony Spencer can probably play the strongside DE, and if he isn't re-signed, last year's 3rd round pick, Tyrone Crawford, played that position in college, and should be able to slide in and play well, either as the starter or as part of the rotation.
But there are plenty of legitimate questions as well. Who will play the Sam LB? Do we have the safeties to make this work? And more importantly, do we have the type of DTs that this system is known for? Our own Coty Saxman has already posited that Hatcher and Ratliff are plug-and-play starters at the 3-technique (lined up between G and T) and 1-technique (between C and G), because that is essentially where they played in the 3-4, and I agree. But there is still some concern - after all, this was really the first year where Hatcher showed any sort of consistency, and Ratliff's production has really tailed off the last 2 years as injuries, and possibly age, have taken their toll. And frankly, neither of them would appear to have the type of play-making ability that Warren Sapp was known for. These concerns, as well as the recognition that DL as a whole is the oldest position group on the roster has led many to focus on that position as the likely object of a high draft pick.
But might there be another player on our roster who could possibly fit the bill?
In late December, the Cowboys signed a handful of players to futures contracts. As expected, most of them were players that I had never heard of. But when I saw "Brian Price - DT", my eyes widened. Brian Price? 2nd round draft pick out of UCLA by Tampa Bay in 2010? That had to be wrong.
A little background on me. I'm a California native, and have lived in SoCal for the past 22 years, since I moved down here for college. And as amazing as my alma mater is, it doesn't have a football program, so I've adopted UCLA as my team (I've had a soft spot for the gutty little Bruins since a certain #8 played there in the late 80s, once I heard rumors that the Cowboys were likely going to pick him number one overall), and have watched most of their games over the past two decades. UCLA is generally not a great football program, but they have had some good years (late 90s in particular), and have had a handful of special players that you knew were going to be solid-to-great pros.
Aside from Maurice Jones-Drew, Brian Price is the best player I've seen at UCLA in the last 20 years.
Price was UCLA's top recruit in 2006, a beast of a DT who had 22 sacks as a high school junior, and then 15 more as a high school senior despite facing triple teams on a regular basis. He came from the extremely rough South Central LA area (ever see Boyz N The Hood? That's South Central), but was a good kid from a strong family. Some issues with the NCAA Clearinghouse his freshman year limited him to 6 games in 2007, but even in those games you could see that he was something special, with his ridiculous speed and strength and explosive burst off the snap. After his promising freshman debut, Price was a dominant force on the UCLA front in 2008 and 2009, making his home in opposing backfields. He was first team all Pac-10 over the next two years, and in 2009 was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team AP All-American, with 7 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. Although I really liked him as a player, at 6'1, 303, he was clearly a 4-3 DT, and I knew that he would not be high on our board.
OCC has been a proponent of Pat Kirwan's Production Ratio (sacks + tackles for loss / games played) as a simple but fairly effective predictor of the playmaking potential of a DL/OLB. Using that metric, Price was literally off the charts in college. For a pure pass rusher (which a 4-3 DT is not), a production ratio of at least 1.5 is considered the hallmark of an elite talent. Check out Price's production ratios:
- 2007 - 6 games, 1 sack, 7 tackles for loss. Production ratio: 1.33
- 2008 - 12 games, 4.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss. Production ratio: 1.54
- 2009 - 13 games, 7 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss. Production ratio: 2.35
Again, for a 4-3 DT, those numbers are astonishing. Over his college career, Price had a production ratio of 1.84 (12.5 sacks, 44.5 TFL, 31 games). Over his last 2 seasons, that ratio is 1.96. You know who else has had a production ratio like that in the 2012 draft? No one. How about 2011? Nope. You have to go back to 2010 to find that Ndamukong Suh had a production ratio of 2.07 over his last 2 seasons (but only 1.41 over his college career). Price's productivity numbers rank right up there with JJ Watt.
So how did we pick up Brian Price off the scrap heap less than 3 years after he was drafted? Well, frankly, injuries and personal issues.
Midway during his rookie season it was discovered that he had a congenital defect in his pelvis that resulted in his hamstrings slowly pulling his pelvis apart, and had to have a fairly radical surgery on both sides of his pelvis that ended his season. Then the lockout hit, and he was unable to work with the training staff in the offseason on his rehab and had to go it alone. In July of 2011, he could only run 10 steps, but he was in the starting lineup two months later when the season started. He struggled that season with hamstring issues related to his surgeries, and then had a falling out with Raheem Morris (who had clearly lost the team and was looking for a scapegoat. It appears that he found one in the injured and struggling Price).
Then, in May of 2012, Price lost his older sister in a car accident (this after losing two brothers to gang violence when he was a kid). Price was extremely close to his sister, and his grief over her loss resulted in him suffering a breakdown. Upon returning to the team he had an altercation with rookie Mark Barron (apparently Barron was sitting in Price's customary seat in a meeting room, and when Price asked him to move, Barron popped off at him, and Price decked him). He was then traded in July to Chicago, and then waived in September after suffering a leg injury. He tried out for the Broncos and Vikings (twice) during the 2012 season before being signed by the Cowboys to a futures contract. This is purely speculation on my part, but I imagine that the loss of his sister (which resulted in him adopting her two young sons) hit him extremely hard, and his head and heart simply weren't right last year.
Can he return to be the wrecking ball he was at UCLA? I don't know. Only time will tell. But if he's fully recovered from his injuries, and has regained his desire to be a dominant force, then we may have already solved one of our roster problems. I know I'm rooting for him - he's my pet cat for the year.
(Here are a few draft highlight videos that I forgot to include in my initial post):
DT Brian Price Highlights/Lowlights 2009 UCLA (via ProDraftParty)
Universal Draft Presents DT Brian Price - UCLA (via ckparrothead)