This is the ninth installment of a series of articles evaluating the Dallas Cowboys current roster in anticipation of the April draft. This evaluation deals with the nose tackle position.
The Cowboys have two nose tackles listed on their roster.
Starter - Jason Ferguson
After a so-so year in his first season as a Dallas Cowboys, Jason Ferguson turned in a superior performance in the 2006 season. Signed as a free agent two years ago he assumed the starter's position when the Cowboys released La'Roi Glover last offseason. Ferguson played the 2-gap responsibility of a nose tackle very well and was a force in stopping the run. For years the theory has been to run straight ahead at a 3-4 defense and take advantage of the "bubbles" in front of the two guards on offense. Ferguson was tasked to handle the gaps on either side of the center, a job he handled using his thick frame and good technique to become an immovable object in the middle. Now he has a new challenge and one that hasn't been discussed this offseason. In the Phillips 34, the emphasis will be on getting up field instead of holding position on the line. Ferguson will get to show his athleticism as a big man in the new 1-gap defense. It will be interesting to watch how Ferguson handles the new responsibilities. One problem with Ferguson is his age. The Cowboys will probably need to spell him more because he will be a more active nose tackle in the new defensive scheme.
Reserves - Montavious Stanley
Stanley was picked in the 6th round of last year's draft and didn't make it with the team into the regular season, but was picked up again in mid-season after being cut by another team. Stanley has the size to be an effective nose tackle in the 3-4 defense but was hampered by, ironically enough, a switch from a 1-gap player in college to a 2-gap player in Parcells' defensive scheme. Parcells mentioned his problems handling the 2-gap scheme on a couple of occasions. But with the arrival of Wade Phillips, the Cowboys are back to a 1-gap scheme and this may benefit Stanley, who was thought to have good athleticism and quickness coming out of college.
Jay Ratliff could also be used at the position in a pinch, but he seems to be well-suited to play defensive end.
With Ferguson's age and questions still outstanding as to Stanley's effectiveness, the Cowboys will look to bring in another nose tackle in the draft. Phillips seems to have a preference for larger nose tackles, but they need to have some athleticism to work in his scheme. Look for a 300+ pound prospect who showed well in the short shuttle and the 10-yard time of his 40-yard dash.