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Rod Marinelli believes in certain things, Taco Charlton needs to understand and internalize those things

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This is the make-or-break year for Taco Charlton.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Is he a bust or not? That’s certainly a question the Dallas Cowboys have about their 2017 first-round pick. Taco Charlton was selected 28th overall and faced the expectations that come with such a high draft choice. Suffice it to say, he hasn’t come close to living up to those expectations.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli expects certain qualities in his players. These are basic things that revolve around effort and character. Hustle to the ball, hard work, proper body language and attitude. These are things that are totally in the control of a player. Everyone can achieve these things if they put their mind to it. Some players won’t have the talent or the physical gifts to elevate their game to the next level, but everyone one of them can put out maximum effort and come to work with a good attitude.

It appears that Taco Charlton hasn’t been able to do that to Marinelli’s satisfaction. As Calvin Watkins informs us in this article, Marinelli had to have a “man’s talk” with Charlton over this offseason to try and get him back on track.

“I mean, that’s man talk,” Marinelli said. “Here it is. You don’t beat around the bush. Here’s what we’ve got to do. Here’s what you have to do to be the type of player you want to be and we want you to be. He’s coming into camp. His offseason was good. I like what he’s done so far.”

Further details from Marinelli:

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind, the whole meeting, we talk about it,” Marinelli said. “We show each other’s grades. We see how certain guys are sprinting to the ball and maybe some are not. Those are the standards. They’re not changing. That will never change. You’ve got to rise to be here, and you’ve got to rise to the challenges. I like what he’s doing.”

If you read through that, it basically is saying Marinelli told Charlton he’s got to get his mind right. He needs to understand you can’t go half-speed, you can’t mope around when you’re injured or when someone else is playing better than you and taking your reps. You have to work at all times, you have to show that your willing to do what it takes to reach your maximum potential, whatever that is.

That seems to be the issue. The Cowboys obviously believe that Charlton has a lot of potential that has yet to be unleashed, otherwise they wouldn’t have drafted him so high. Charlton has the physical attributes to make an impact. Here is how NFL.com described him heading into the 2017 draft:

Rare combination of size, length and athletic traits as a rusher. Long-levered frame with athletic, knotted calves. Brings freaky athletic traits to table and is still growing into his body. Flashes instant reaction time off snap and up the field thanks to his twitch. Has enough upfield juice to push offensive tackles into hasty retreat. Generates pop through speed-to-power element. Very good flexibility throughout. Able to sink and swerve around corner if he gets early lead in race to the edge.

Sounds so good. That’s what the Cowboys were hoping they were getting. But that was just the “strengths” side of that scouting report. There was an important description in the “weaknesses” portion of that same scouting report.

Despite talent and traits, production and overall play has been uneven at Michigan. Earned full-time starting nod in just his final season. Held back by his inconsistent play speed.

Charlton has the physical gifts to make an impact, but he’s yet to get his mind right. The Cowboys coaches, including Leon Lett, think they are seeing a better version of Charlton this offseason and into camp. Perhaps Marinelli’s “man talk” is helping to unlock the potential.

“I think so,” Marinelli said if Charlton’s body language has improved. “That’s a big part of playing -- what you show your opponent. Are you standing up straight, your chest, good play, bad play doesn’t matter. Nobody sees you tired.”

When you hear from Charlton, you probably get a mixed-reaction. He is saying sort of the right things, but it is hard to tell if he is taking it to heart and is trying to effect a real change in his work ethic and general attitude.

“It was a lot,” Charlton said. “I can’t really get into that talk and what that was, some of it had nothing to do on the football field. So that’s a different talk. To say my side of it, ain’t time for that.”

In general, you’d like to hear Charlton say there is no “his side of it” because that sounds like he still believes his effort and attitude were okay, or at least justified in some way. In his mind they might have been, but to the Cowboys there was no justification for some of his issues. They made that clear when they didn’t even put him on the active roster for a few games last year.

This is the year when Charlton determines if he’s a bust or not. The Cowboys have made it clear what they expect. Will they get it from him?