When folks out there criticize the Cowboys for their lack of pass rush abilities over the last several years, they have to understand that it’s not for a lack of trying. We’ve heard and discussed how this team has had issues getting to the quarterback. It really makes you appreciate the times with an elite rusher like DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys have swung the bat several times in recent memory but it’s not easy to replace someone like Ware. Guys like Ware or a J.J. Watt are generational players that aren’t hanging around in every draft.
At this point, this front office has concluded that they just have to keep drafting good athletes that are trending upward. As much as fixing the pass rush has become an addiction for guys like Will McClay and Stephen Jones, they know they can’t compromise their convictions and have to remain patient.
Hindsight loves to critique them for drafting Randy Gregory but come on, Gregory was clearly one of the best edge rushers in his class. Gregory has his personal problems but nobody can deny that he didn’t have the pedigree to become great. We saw the flashes and if you’ve had the privilege of seeing him work in practice, it’s magnetic and depressing all at the same time. DeMarcus Lawrence is hoping to put the injury bug behind him and realize his potential in a contract year. They even tried the free agency route with Greg Hardy but also protected themselves for the inevitable and washed their hands after one season. The list goes on and the Cowboys just haven’t hit yet but they hope their luck is about to change.
Taco Charlton isn’t cut from the same cloth like Gregory was and there are a lot of draft revisionists that would still redo this year’s 28th pick. However, the one thing that impresses you about Charlton outside of his tremendous size and looks of an edge rusher is his commitment to improvement. Charlton has that “want-to” and he’s on the perfect team for passion and hunger. Where some guys miss the bar and fall victim to everything but the work needed to succeed, Jason Garrett sees Taco differently:
“I think like a lot of young guys, they grow quickly,” Garrett said. “He’s certainly a very good athlete. He’s a smart guy and he’s willing to work. I think when you put them in an environment like this, they get better. He comes to work; I think he recognizes the challenges.”
Taco has reason to believe that he can continue this path to a successful NFL career, he had steady improvement with each year at Michigan. As a freshman, he saw two games of action in a limited role, only two tackles and a half tackle for loss. His sophomore season he increased his playing time to nine games, 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Followed by his junior year where he played 11 games, recorded 30 tackles, 8.5 for loss, a forced fumble, and 5.5 sacks. It was his senior year that he made his biggest splash with 11 games, 40 tackles, 13.5 for loss, and ten sacks. That’s why the Cowboys drafted him, his trajectory continues to point up.
He’s in a really good environment as a defensive lineman with Coach Marinelli and with [assistant coach] Leon Lett. I think he’s grown from that, and also by the examples of the other guys. I think he’s a different player now than he was when we drafted him, and he’s certainly getting better and better every day.”
It’s not exactly an easy task having to spend every precious rep you’re given with the first team going up against an All-Pro left tackle and perhaps the best in the game. Tyron Smith has seen every type of pass rusher in the league and to steal an 80’s phrase, he’s rocked them all. Every offseason we hope that having to face someone like Smith will bring the best out of a player. Both Lawrence and Gregory have been there before and now Taco gets his shot. He can take comfort in the fact that if he can find wins against Smith, he should feel that he’s progressing because he will not face elite tackles every week.
"He's a Pro Bowler for a reason, one of the best left tackles for a reason," Charlton said. "We get after it -- he's making me improve and study my game. I'm watching a lot of tape to see what I can do better, different things to beat him consistently. I'm still a competitive guy, so no matter who I'm losing to, I hate losing, period. Even if I'm losing to him, I'm still not liking it. I take my wins when I can get them. I just keep trying to improve and get better."
It’s a grind in those dog days of summer having to compete against the NFL’s best. Some guys can take the beating while others are not willing to keep pushing. It’s early but hearing Taco say he hates losing and also embraces film homework is a great sign.
Charlton isn’t the super twitched up edge rusher that wins with speed. Nor is he the ultimate powerhouse that bull rushes his way to victory. With Taco, it’s all about realizing his gift of length and leverage with the right amount of athleticism to make his impact. It can’t hurt that his own position coach was a similar player. Leon Lett had a bit more bulk at 6’6, 290 pounds versus Taco’s 6’6, 271-pound frame. Still, both players won with knowing how to play with their measurables. There are so many guys that were big but couldn’t use those gifts to their advantage, Lett knew how to maximize his strengths.
"Big Cat, he's a great player," Charlton said. "My dad actually told me about him because obviously, he watched him more than I did when I was a kid. He's a great player, long leverage, kind of like me: big, tall guy. He knows how to use his length, so he can teach me first-hand."
Taco Charlton probably understands that the Cowboys are looking to end their streak of bad luck. They want Taco to be a key cog in their rotation for years to come. More importantly, they just want to put all the right guys together and hope each guy can find their own ways to win. Charlton is only a rookie but he can make an impact on this defense. The Cowboys got better when they drafted Taco Charlton, plain and simple. Now, the front office is just hoping that he’ll be ready to help them flip the script on their recent struggles.