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BTB Talks With Draftek, Post-Draft Edition: Part II, Philosophical Ramifications

I'm happy to present the second part of our post-draft chat with Longball of Drafttek. In the first part, we discussed the Cowboys' draft, particularly the three offensive linemen they acquired. Here, we'll talk about what these acquisitions might mean. But first, we start off with some juicy insider information! Let's get it on:

BTB: In our pre-draft interviews, you mentioned a couple of names of guys the Cowboys had scouted heavily, one of them was the man they ended up picking, Tyron Smith. You also said that the year before they had made a play for Vladimir Ducasse.

Any good Cowboys-related 2011 draft scuttlebutt you can share? Any guys Dallas had targeted that fell through? Other players that were on the short list when they came on the clock at any part of the draft? BTB Nation is dying to know…

Longball: According to my sources, Jerry really wanted to make the trade with Jacksonville as one of his "trusted" scouts did not have a large difference on his grade between Tyron Smith and Anthony Castonzo; however, Jason Garrett and Hudson Houck were extremely high on Smith and when the Jags wanted a late-round kicker to do the deal, Jerry said no.  The plan was if Smith was the only OT gone at the Jacksonville selection, they might go with J.J. Watt and take Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round.  The fact this deal did not go through should be encouraging to Cowboys fans as it indicates Jason has Jerry’s ear, is controlling information leaks and is going to be allowed to "mold the roster."

Other tidbits are Jerry saw Mark Ingram as the second coming of Emmitt Smith, Aaron Williams was a 2nd round target but even if available would not have been taken him over Bruce Carter; all the RB’s they considered for the 3rd round (Mikel LeShoure and Daniel Thomas, if they fell that far, as well as Stevan Ridley as a fall-back if Murray was gone) all had size to them…all these are after-the-fact morsels, as the interest I was told they had in Jarvis Jenkins and Lawrence Guy did not materialize.  Evidently, the only other DE they would have looked at was Cameron Heyward if he fell to the 2nd.

More goodness from Longball after the jump...

BTB: Okay, now we can get back to nuts and bolts. Conventional wisdom has it that the offensive linemen Dallas drafted fit a new profile: quicker, more fleet of foot players. Would you agree?

Longball: More adaptable certainly…Garrett had to limit/modify his playbook last year based on the left side of the OL versus the right side. 

BTB: I completely agree (in fact, I wrote about that in a recent post), and suspect the fact that he could only run a part of his playbook to each side drove Garrett nuts—and certainly made the Cowboys much easier to defend. So, assuming he can open up the full playbook (admittedly a bold assumption) next season, what might we be likely to see?

Longball: While the Cowboys will still employ a power-based running game (the better to play-action off of, my dear), Garrett wants to utilize mis-direction, screen passes, quick-hitting off-tackle slants that are better blocked by nimble linemen that can get to the second level.

BTB: This is what I’m anticipating as well—and think that’s one of the reasons they drafted Murray, because he excels in the passing game and on the edge, in space. Like Felix Jones, if he can get to the second level with a blocker, he’s gone. Agree or disagree?

Longball: I don’t know that Murray has Felix’s "2nd Gear", but he may be quicker through the initial hole…let’s face it, the Cowboys’ red-zone albatross has been either utilization of slow-developing plays or Barber’s propensity to bounce outside instead of following his blockers up the hole.  The reasons I believe Choice was a better short yardage back are:  1) he stays with the play and 2) has the ability to make himself "smaller" in the hole (moving at angles) to squeeze out yardage.

BTB: Can we go back for just a second? Were there some types of plays that we didn’t see in the Dallas arsenal last year—or only saw run to one side? If so, what were they—or to what side didn’t we see them run?

Longball: Obvious plays are screen passes, but let’s consider one of most basic of plays:  the off-tackle slant.  This play requires OL to get to the 2nd level on a LB – they are normally quick-hitting plays, do not require the OL to maintain the initial block as long, release and go make another block, and the RB is moving at an angle.  Diagram either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense and then look at the obvious running lanes that are at an angle . . . it doesn’t require a totally dominating block.

The other red-zone shortcoming was on power running plays, as an OL has to get lower than the DL to root them out for precious inches...Leonard Davis can barely get down in his stance and his first move is straight up, and Marc Columbo could not drive off his bad leg.

BTB: So do you think the draft signals a change in the offensive line profile with which they have been associated (somewhat incorrectly) since the 90s: big, powerful one-on-one man blocking types?

Longball: As I stated earlier, I don’t think the Cowboys will totally abandon a power-based running game as there will still be sufficient size and strength on the OL; however, proper run-blocking techniques and leverage utilization can more than replace pure brute strength of maulers.  Getting into the defender more quickly (and once again, with the right leverage) can open holes for the running game…and smart OL that can see on the run that a defender will not make the play can keep moving downfield and turn a 5, 6 or 7 yard gain into a 15-20 yard gain.

BTB: So, we’re likely to see a shift towards technique and away from brute force? Given what you’ve said in the past, isn’t the success of such a shift largely dependent on them replacing Leonard Davis?

Longball: I know it seems that I’m always hammering Bigg, but the reality is he has always been able to get by with poor fundamentals due to his massive size and strength…but if you’re not lower than your opponent in the NFL, you’re going to lose battles.  Leverage counteracts size and strength. The ideal situation would be to re-sign Kosier as a veteran back-up (keep in mind, he has played every position on the OL during his career), and replace 2 of the 3 interior OL positions.  If a veteran OC was available, Gurode could move to ROG (next to the rookie Smith) and then you have Holland, Bright or Costa on the left (as I don’t believe Arkin will be ready to start for another year or two).  At any rate, one of the interior line slots would have to be addressed via trade or free agency; otherwise, we’re stuck with Davis for another year.

BTB: Keeping with this theme: are we likely to see the Cowboys adopt more zone-blocking blocking principles, like we’ve seen run so well in Denver and Atlanta in recent years?

Longball: Hudson Houck does not coach ZBS, but could certainly incorporate some of the principles into the Cowboys’ OL game plan.

BTB: If we accept that the Cowboys were looking for a different O-line profile, might this explain why they passed over some of our BTB members’ pet cats—guys like Moffiitt, Pinkston and Ijalana?

Longball: While I’ll go along with your description as it pertains to Moffitt and Ijalana, don’t lump Pinkston into that group – the man is a "dancing bear" and has excellent footwork for any OL scheme…but your premise is a good one and is part of the reason for the Cowboys’ attempt to hire an assistant OL coach and move Houck into running game coordinator.  Houck is a Garrett confidant, even though his coaching and schemes do not totally fall in line with Garrett’s philosophies.

BTB: Can you elaborate on this? Was the Cowboys new OL assistant—who, in one of recent Cowboys history’s greatest ironies, is Wade Phillips’ son, Wes Phillips—promoted to help install more ZBS principles?

Longball: Well, let’s not read too much into this…Bruce Matthews and former Cowboy TE Dan Campbell were the first choices, interviewed to help incorporate more basic fundamentals among the OL whether man or ZBS.  Keep in mind that until Flozell was released, the OL did not work that hard…Flozell’s attitude was following that of Larry Allen, who followed that of Eric Williams, etc.  While Wes Phillips is a bright young coach (formerly QC specialist, meaning he graded a lot of film), he will be more of a "gopher" for Houck, relieving him of details so he can also handle the running game coordinator responsibilities.  Phillips won’t be installing anything at this point.

BTB: Interesting. Okay, back to an earlier conversational thread. If Dallas has, in fact, changed its offensive line profile, are there some highly-rated guys that, in retrospect, might not have been on their board—or as high on their board—as pre-draft conventional wisdom would have placed them? Guys who fell because they didn’t fit the "new" profile the Cowboys were looking for?

Longball: From some of the better-known names, Chris Hairston (Clemson), James Brewer (Indiana), Joseph Barksdale (LSU) and Lee Ziemba (Auburn) would certainly be eliminated from OT consideration...even though Marcus Gilbert (Florida) has similar size, he has terrific footwork for a man his size, and his intangibles are off the charts.  Now, his teammate Carl Johnson wouldn’t fit the bill, nor would Marcus Cannon of TCU or Ray Dominguez of Arkansas.

However, any football player that is a technician (yes, Moffitt has a nasty, mean streak – but grade his film and you will see that his footwork is good, he gets into the right position and utilizes leverage) can adapt to any scheme…with the right coaching!

BTB: Fair enough. I wonder: might this amount to a distinction between a good technician and a good foot athlete—i.e., that the Garrett Cowboys are looking for guys who are both? Am I right in assuming a guy like Moffitt may be the former but not the latter?  Or is this a bogus distinction?

Longball: We’re a little early in Garrett’s coaching tenure, but if you’ll remember from one of his interviews, he talked about prospects that "finished plays"…whether that is staying with a block, getting downfield, etc., he is looking for attitude.  Naturally, if you find a player who has both technique and athleticism/footwork, you have struck gold.  My concern is that the common statement from coaches is "give me the athleticism and the "want to" desire, and I can coach the player up on technique!"  I don’t know that statement to be true as it applies to Houck – he has always preferred veterans and the Cowboys’ OL has been shoddy on technique.  That was the major reason I wanted to see them hire a quality Assistant OL Coach to drill on fundamentals and techniques…so many high school and college programs run the spread offense and basic OL techniques are no longer taught.  Keep in mind that the blocking assignments on running plays in the spread offense are somewhat akin to blocking for a draw play – you allow the DL to take a rush lane and just keep pushing them in that direction.  As a result, you cannot assume that just because an OL prospect has made it to the NFL that he is well-schooled in fundamentals.  How’s that for getting on a soap-box?

BTB: Hey, if you’ve read any of my stuff, you know that I like a good soap-box!

Great stuff, Longball, as always. Its been a pleasure; I’m looking forward to more of these chats, either during training camp or leading up to the 2012 draft.

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