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Cowboys Player Personnel Man Will McClay: "We're Looking For Speed."

In an interview with 105.3 The Fan, Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay shares some insight into the Cowboys draft process, his role in it, and what type of players the Cowboys are looking for.

 J.J. Wilcox runs the 40-yard dash during the 2013 NFL Combine.
J.J. Wilcox runs the 40-yard dash during the 2013 NFL Combine.
Joe Robbins

On the inaugural "Draft Show" on 105.3 The Fan that was broadcast on Sunday, Bryan Broaddus, Jeff Cavanaugh, Kevin Turner, and Nate Wood had the chance to talk with Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay.

You can listen in on a recording of that draft show by following this link, or you can read a transcript of that interview right here. All mistakes in transcribing the interview are mine.

We want to build the team speed and the depth with good football players. - Will McClay

Q: What is your philosophy on taking the best player available or picking for the needs of your team?

McClay: I think it’s kind of a two-fold thing. You can never say you go into the draft without the thought of picking the needs that you have on the team. But if the best player on the board is at a position of need, you kind of adjust your strategy that way.

Q: What type of players do you want on your roster and what’s the direction you’re trying this GM to get to?

McClay: We look at what we need on the team for now and in the future. But as you build the team, in this day and age the game is played in space. So one of the first things we look at is speed. You’ve got to be a good football player, the character has to fit in to what we do and in our environment, but we’re looking for speed.

We want to build the team speed and the depth with good football players.

Q: On BPA vs. need: If you had one of the QBs, like Johnny Manziel, rated higher than a defensive lineman when you get down to 16 or 17, would it be crazy to think that the Cowboys would even look at a quarterback at that spot?

McClay: I think we’ll look at everything, and I can’t say, you know, "This quarterback that we value that high depending on where he falls in the ranking", that we wouldn’t discuss it. But I think you also have to be aware of the cap allotment and all the different things that go into the strategy of how you decide which player to pick.

It’s where you are with your team, how much cap is dedicated to it, what’s behind that, all those different things kind of play a part in those decisions.

Q: How much are you willing to reveal about certain guys, because we’ve looked at these defensive tackles a lot, and between Jernigan and Donald and Dominique Easley, who I’m about to go and buy a No. 2 jersey and just wear around and campaign for him – I just need his knees to be good. Jernigan might not seem to be that quick-twitch guy, but I love what he shows on tape. How do you measure stuff like that versus "I want speed, but this guy is a heck of a football player."

McClay: The thing that we talk about is the ability to do different things that you want to have done within your defensive philosophy in different ways. And for the scheme to work that we’re using now – it’s very evident when you go back to the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers of old, Seattle Seahawks now – you’ve got to have depth. It’s all in how you put the pieces together to build that depth of the seven-, eight-man line that you’ll need in a rotation during the season if you’re going to play fast and do the things that we do.

So, there’s some good football players and then there’s some guys that have some traits that are not in the first three rounds that we are going to continue to look at. You’ve got to be aware of that as you build the team, and you want to be able to find value in those lower rounds in guys that can come in and help you. And that’s where we are as an organization, as a team, right now: We want to build depth and we’ve got to hit on as many picks as possible.

This is our game day. We’re getting ready for game day here. -Will McClay

Q: How much can the Combine swing you?

McClay: It’s all a part of the process. You talk about trying to get the jobs done at certain positions where we have criteria or standards that have been tried and true that we have to meet. So you can love a player on tape and not have a true measurable on him, and then you go and you think he’s 6-2 and he ends up being 5-11 or 6-0. That kind of changes your view on that player a little bit.

But the opportunity to speak with them and learn a little more about them – because the college scouts go out on the road and they gather information, and they have their sources – this is really our first opportunity to interact with those guys; find out how they’re going to react to some of the questions and things that we ask them; find out a little more about what makes them tick, because we have to also be aware of … you know, the players that we’re looking at, that we’re evaluating, we’re also aware of what we’re putting them into, and we’re kind of trying to see if there’s a fit. You can’t maximize the ability of a player unless you know what you’re putting him into, and that’s an opportunity for him to have success.

Q: What’s the time frame like between the Combine and the draft in May? How much pressure is on you guys, and how much time do you spend at Valley Ranch?

McClay: We spend about 15-18 hours a day at Valley Ranch. This is the exciting part of the process. You get to evaluate things and see how you can make the team better.

This is our game day. We’re getting ready for game day here. The coaches spend countless hours during the week, as the players do, getting prepared for games. This is our game day. And we want to try to leave no stone unturned; we want to take the information in; do it the right way; bounce one guy against another guy and how it fits. There’s so many different things that go into this, but you have to be excited about the challenge of the process.

Q: Now that you’re the lead dog on the sled in building the board and things like that, talk about how you’re going to work with Jerry Jones.

McClay: The thing that’s kind of a mis-perception out there is that Jerry does these things on his own and he doesn’t listen to his people and all those things. What Jerry does is take in that information. My job is to try to get the guys to have somewhat of a unified voice, that we’re looking at things the right way and have a process that’s consistent, so that the information that comes to him is consistent.

He listens to us, he listens to the scouts, he’s going to take the input of the coaches and the scouts. And what we try to do is … you know, there’s a deal in scouting where … well in football and in NFL organizations, there’s a general deal that sometimes the coaches and the scouts don’t see eye to eye. We’re trying to bridge that gap. We want to find out what the coaches want. We also want the coaches to respect the work the scouts put in and the information that we have. We take all that information, put it in a pot, mix it up and be able to give Jerry the right information as best we know how and help him make the right decisions.

We’re in the business of finding players and not disqualify. -Will McClay

Q: When you look at the players that were already on this Cowboys team last year, [with you] coming from the Pro side especially, and hearing what Jerry Jones had to say about how Bruce Carter sort of performed last year; is there something to how long it takes to change a scheme or could you guys project him in any sort of different role next year, or is it just a learning process for everybody?

McClay: I think there’s one thing that Coach Jason Garrett has talked about as we put together the team for next year: make sure we have guys in the right positions within the scheme to maximize their potential. What we have to do on the draft is bring in as much talent as possible - and in free agency, if we’re able to do anything. We want to have the team full of vets from top to bottom because the NFL now is about who has the last man standing and all that. Who has the most depth that can continue with the momentum that they started early in the season with.

So we’re just going to continue to try and find good football players. And put those players in the right position to be successful offensively and defensively.

Q: You working with Jason Garrett, he has a certain type of player he likes. Can you explain about your philosophy about guys that might be off your draft board for character reasons or however that works?

McClay: You want to build a team with good character people. And outside of the personal character, I would say that all of us have a little skeleton in our closet in some way or another. We want to dig up and find out the information on the player; find out if there are issues; find out if we can handle those issues organizationally.

What’s the most important thing for me, and what I try to stress to the group is: What is his football character like and what is his compete like?

Football players come up in a day and age where if you make it to the NFL, you’re the best high school player, the best college player, and we’ve all been around the environment where everything is a little bit different for those people. The way they may react to certain things, if we’re on the outside looking in, you may judge the character a different way. We want to get in and find out what is their football character like? What are their competes like? Any off the field issues, is that under control? Can they handle that and make themselves eligible for the team every week?

These are young men that come in and they grow. We all grow and mature and change. We need to put them in the right environment, hold them accountable, and the issues that they do have … football players tend to fall in line if the leadership is right.

We’re want to look at those things, but I don’t want to … We’re in the business of finding players and not disqualify.

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