The NFL Draft brings hope with the new players, and fans of the Dallas Cowboys have some shiny new players to look at. To get a better understanding of them, we have reached out to our sister SBN sites to get some questions answered about the latest players. This installment looks at defensive end Ryan Russell from Purdue. Travis Miller from Hammer and Rails was kind enough to share his knowledge of the fifth-round pick.
1. Ryan Russell seems to have had a hard time playing in the 3-4 system, but looked better when Purdue was running a 4-3. Was he really a square peg forced into a round hole?
We only shifted to a 3-4 this past season, and it was really more for a 3-4/4-3 hybrid with a "rush-end", and he was on the opposite of that rush-end. The other side of the line did not get a ton of production, either. The rest of the time Russell was at Purdue he was in a more traditional 4-3. He also had NFL talent on the line with him. As a true freshman, when he was redshirting, Ryan Kerrigan was in front of him. For two years he had Kawann Short of Carolina at defensive tackle and for three years he had Bruce Gaston, currently with the Packers, as a defensive tackle. So for two of his four years he had two NFL defensive tackles with him. Our defense overall still sucked.
To be fair, I think part of it was some very, very poor coaching. We could not get a stop on third down for anything as the middle of the field was constantly wide open and this past season, with two promising freshman, was the only year where he had significant talent at linebacker behind him. I think most of his lack of production came from not having much of a defense behind him. That's expected from a team that was 4-20 the last two years and an offense that could not move the football, often leaving the defense out to dry.
2. Just in general, can you address his strengths and weaknesses?
He has the definite build to be a defensive end and he comes from a school known for putting DEs into the pros. Cliff Avril, Rob Ninkovich, Ryan Kerrigan, and Anthony Spencer have all come from Purdue as DEs. Even Shaun Phillips is still kicking around. We are known for producing excellent rush ends.
Unfortunately, he never really had the production many of those guys had. Kerrigan was a damn rampaging beast, cutting through double and triple teams to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year on a lousy defense for a 4-8 team. Russell never put that Fear of God into teams like Kerrigan did on similar, if not better defenses. He had some good moments, but he never was the force I thought he could be.
3. The entire Dallas draft class has been somewhat overshadowed by the hype and hysteria about Randy Gregory. Can you give a rundown of Russell's character, both on field (does he work as hard in practice as he does on the field) and off.
Ironically, we almost had Gregory, too. He committed to Purdue out of high school and even after two years of junior college, but switched to Nebraska after Danny Hope was fired. We know him well and had he stayed with Purdue, Russell might have never been heard of.
Ryan is definitely a class guy and a great character. I once got to interview him after Purdue got the only bowl win of his career, the 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. He is a very nice, personable kid that definitely is going to work hard because nothing is ever handed to Purdue players. He also is from Carrollton, Texas and reportedly grew up as a Cowboys fan, so it is a bit of a dream come true for him to be picked by Dallas.
4. Dallas values position flex. Is Russell strictly an end, or would he have any chance to kick inside to DT (in the 4-3) in certain situations, like on certain passing downs when the run is not really a concern?
I think he could do that. He had a very good bowl game when our ends were dropping back as LBs back in 2011. With a coaching change and shifting defenses all during his four years it is really hard to say because there was never a consistent system in which he could truly thrive.
5. As a fifth-round pick, and with Dallas already getting Gregory and Greg Hardy to improve the defensive end position, Russell may be looking at a season on the practice squad. How do you think he would react to that?
I think is a fair assessment. No fifth-round pick is going to be promised anything, so he has to know it is going to take work to make it in the League. I was surprised that he was chosen above the seventh round, so clearly Dallas sees something in him. I hope he makes it!
I think it's safe to say we share Travis' hope. We'll get the first look at him and all the draftees, UDFAs, and invitees in the rookie minicamp. Stay tuned for more.