Recent Mailbag Questions
Q: Why would the Cowboys not draft a LT prospect to rotate with Flozell Adams a few plays per game, and do the same with other OL personnel (Colombo/Free)?
John Coleman, Bassett, VA
A: Line substitutions have traditionally been limited to the defensive side of the ball, but we kind of like your thinking here. Football has evolved into a sport of personnel packages. The Cowboys bring in different packages of skill positions players on offense based on down and distance. They do the same with the entire defense.
So why does the offensive line, on basically every NFL team, remain stagnant? Our best guess is that you always want your best players protecting your quarterback. It could be risky, for example, substituting a rookie for Flozell Adams in a 3rd and Long situation.
Still, there do seem to be situations where the idea makes a lot of sense. The Cowboys loved what they saw in Doug Free last season, so why not rotate him with Marc Colombo at right tackle? We graded Free as superior to Colombo in pass protection, so perhaps the Cowboys should consider substituting Free in during passing situations, just as they do with Tashard Choice.
These “linemen packages” do not necessarily have to tip the defense as to a certain play. The substitution of Choice on 3rd down, for example, does not guarantee a pass. Further, during situations such as 3rd and Long when the defense all but knows a pass is going to be dialed up, why not have your best pass protectors in the game?
The problem with substituting a rookie for Adams is that the veteran left tackle’s weakness is obviously pass protecting. Trusting a rookie in 2nd and 5 is a bit different than 3rd and 10 on Romo’s blind side against the opponent’s best pass-rusher. However, you could make the argument that he would still be better than Adams in pass protection at this point.
Q: When will the NFL announce the compensatory draft picks for this year? Do you think Dallas will receive anything better than a single pick at the end of the 6th round? Thanks!
Edward Toerner, Lafayette, LA
A: Good question Edward. Compensatory picks will be awarded at the annual NFL meeting, this year being held from March 21-24.
Unfortunately, Dallas does not stand to receive anything too worthwhile again this season in terms of compensatory selections. These picks are based not only on free agents a team loses, but also those a team signs.
So while the squad could have benefited greatly from Chris Canty signing with the Giants (or even a little from Kevin Burnett signing with the Chargers), these losses are negated because Dallas picked up players such as Keith Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh, and Igor Olshansky.
Now, a team can still be awarded selections for losing better free agents (i.e. ones who sign for more money), so the Cowboys should be in line to receive a selection via that route. The problem is that, without losing more free agents than they signed, the Cowboys cannot attain any higher than a 7th round selection for any players lost.
Further, salary is not the sole determiner of a player’s value (although it is the primary factor). Playing time also counts some. Remember, though, that Canty got injured and missed basically the entire season.
Altogether, don’t bank on the Cowboys receiving anything special here in the coming week.
Q: The Colts waived Curtis Johnson right before the 2009 season started and Dallas claimed him. All year long it was reported that he was trying to heal from an injury to his leg, so he was inactive for much of the season. But, the Cowboys still kept him around. Is he that special? He must be for them to go short all season long while carrying him on the active roster. Can you give us some insight into this player? Thanks!
Edward Toerner, Lafayette, LA
A: Johnson was undrafted in 2008 before signing with the Colts. Dallas claimed him one day after Indianapolis released him last season, so they obviously had a lot of interest.
Johnson is undersized for a 3-4 outside linebacker, even though he played defensive end for the Colts. He has been working to add a little bulk, and he has the right body frame to be able to add some quality weight.
The key for Johnson will be if he can maintain his speed after adding the weight. He ran a 4.60 forty-yard dash coming out of Clark College, so if he stay in that 4.6-4.7 range, he has a chance to be a special player. He will likely have to be a pass rush specialist to start, particularly because he doesn’t have much experience playing in a two-point stance. Even if he only rushes and never drops into coverage, it can be a difficult transition from 4-3 defensive end to rushing from a stand-up position.
The other problem for Johnson is the depth Dallas has at outside linebacker. Of course Ware and Spencer start, but the team also drafted Victor Butler last season. Still, things can change quickly with an injury or two, and the Cowboys obviously see enough potential in Curtis to keep him around.
- Marion Barber may get his bounce back by returning to the “closer” role.
Q: When Marion Barber became the full-time back, I read that the coaching staff was trying to tweak his running style in order for him to take less punishment since he was getting the bulk of the carries. Do you think this has anything to do with his performance since becoming the full-time starter and is he still trying to run “smarter”? I say set the Barbarian loose!
A: We detailed the decline of Barber’s 2009 production in our Running Back Grades segment, but it is unlikely that his struggles are due to a change in running style. The coaches wanted him to avoid unnecessary hits in situations where gaining any further yards is highly unlikely. You always want your players to give 100 percent on each play, but sometimes going down on purpose or running out of bounds on a dead play is the smartest decision. In a way, this is truly giving 100 percent, because a player is implementing his intelligence to make a decision which is smart for both him and the team.
Quarterback slides are another example of this. Sure, quarterbacks could get another yard or two by not sliding, but that isn’t the smart play. Running backs are a bit different, but sometimes it is best for the team for Barber to just go down.
If there is a part of Barber’s running style that has contributed to his decline, we believe it is the league’s crackdown on stiff arms to the head of the defender. A few years ago, using jabs to the defender’s head was a big part of Marion’s game. Since this move has been made illegal, Barber’s production has decreased, although we can’t be completely sure how strong the two are correlated.
Overall, though, Barber’s struggles are probably due to a variety of factors. Perhaps a return to the “closer” role Barber performed so well in during the days of Julius Jones may serve him well.
Q: How much do teams alter their draft boards based on Combine numbers?
Fred Jennette, Phoenix, AZ
- Golden Tate’s 4.42 forty could propel him into Round One.
A: This really varies based on the team. The Oakland Raiders are well known for taking players who excel at the Combine, i.e. Heyward-Bey over Crabtree. Other teams don’t pay any attention to the Combine workouts unless a particular number really jumps out.
The teams which consistently draft the best seem to not overreact to workout numbers. Generally, these teams will rank players into tiers based on their game film. The film is used for about 90 percent of the evaluation. They will then move players around within a tier based on their numbers.
For example, if the Cowboys have both Golden Tate and Mardy Gilyard graded evenly, they may move Tate ahead of Gilyard based on the drastic difference in their forty-yard dash times. Thus, the Combine creates no drastic changes on a team’s board, but simply sorts out the order of players within the same tier. Game film will always rule, as it should.
Q: I noticed a majority of the passes thrown to Kevin Ogletree were screens and they worked rather well. Do you think he’ll have a bigger role on the team next season? What’s the word within the coaching staff on him?
- Kevin Ogletree has an outside chance of becoming a starting WR in 2010.
A: The Cowboys did utilize Ogletree well on smoke screens, particularly when they anticipated a blitz against the Eagles. Ogletree has tremendous run-after-catch abilities, and Jason Garrett did a terrific job getting him the ball in situations he could handle. Don’t forget Ogletree was an undrafted rookie, so the Cowboys were smart in giving him simple plays where he could use his athleticism without thinking too much.
Ogletree has more to his game than we saw on the screens, though. The comeback route he ran against the Saints comes to mind, where he pushed the defender vertically, got him to turn his hips, made a sharp cut, came back to the ball and made a toe-dragging catch at the sideline. Textbook.
Ogletree will have a tough time cracking the starting lineup, though, because Roy Williams will be given every chance to win the starting job. The coaching staff loves Ogletree, but Jerry Jones is still convinced Roy can be a #1 type wide receiver.
Still, expect Ogletree to continue to improve and, with a good camp and Roy Williams’ meltdown, he does have an outside shot at becoming a starter.
Q: If the Cowboys cut Ken Hamlin and the Cardinals cut Antrel Rolle, do you see Dallas signing Rolle, or will they wait until the draft to address the position?
Bryan D. Cornelius via Facebook
- FS Antrel Rolle will likely be a free agent by week’s end, but don’t expect Dallas to sign him.
A: The Cowboys are very unlikely to sign Antrel Rolle. They will be perfectly able to sign Rolle, as their Final Eight status does not limit their ability to sign players who were released, but Rolle is getting cut for a reason. He does make some big plays, but he also gives up a lot of the same. Say what you want about Ken Hamlin, but he does a good job of keeping the ball in front of him. Sometimes having a free safety whose name is not called a lot can be a good thing.
Many draftniks are projecting the Cowboys to draft a free safety in the first round, but we don’t see that happening either. Ken Hamlin is unlikely to get released, and the Cowboys have a rookie in Michael Hamlin behind him who didn’t play last year due to injury.
Alan Ball also gives the team a lot of versatility in his ability to play both cornerback and free safety. He could even compete for the starting job in camp.
If pressed, we would guess that the Cowboys opening day starters at safety will be the same as last season. This may not be what a lot of you will want to see, and we know we are in the minority concerning this issue, but we see the Cowboys likely to address other positions in free agency and the early draft.
Q: I think the Cowboys have a great backfield with Barber, Jones, and Choice, but do you think it is a good time to trade one of them for a wide receiver or other position of need?
Bruce M. B.
A: This is a great question, as there were recent rumors that the Cowboys were in talks with the San Diego Chargers to swap Tashard Choice for CB Antonio Cromartie. Cowboys’ reps quickly shot down that notion, and with good reason. Cromartie would come in and be a nickel corner at best, and that sort of upside is not worth the risk that losing Choice would pose.
If the Cowboys are interested in trading a running back, it has to be Marion Barber. Barber showed obvious signs of wearing down last year, doing poorly even in short-yardage situations where he once thrived. The problem is Barber is heading into just the third year of a seven-year, $45 million contract and is due a guaranteed $3.8 million roster bonus. It is unlikely that another team would take on that contract, and Barber’s trade value is not particularly high right now.
Trading away a part of the ‘Boys three-headed monster at RB would also leave the team thin at the position. Felix Jones is guaranteed to stay and probably take on the majority of the carries next season, but his health is always a concern. If you trade away Barber or Choice and Felix gets injured, all of a sudden you are left with just one solid back.
The team could always use a draft pick on the position, but as you alluded, there are other positions that must be upgraded first. The Cowboys would probably only get a second-rounder at best for Choice, so why trade away a proven commodity for a draft pick you will have to use just to replace what you gave away?
Q: Given the high likelihood of an uncapped season and Jerry Jones’ deep pockets, do you think this could help or hurt Dallas, both in the short-term and the long run?
Carl Thomas, Jacksonville, FL
A: If the Cowboys play their cards right, the uncapped season can be an advantage for this team. Mr. Jones, as everyone knows, is not afraid to dole out cash to improve his team. Some are afraid that, without a spending limit, the Cowboys could overspend and be in trouble in future seasons.
Fortunately, there is a bit of a loophole in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, basically allowing teams to dish out ridiculous signing bonuses. This would allow the Cowboys to not overspend on players’ base salaries in future seasons, thus keeping them solid money-wise should the salary cap return.
Q: Given Tony Romo’s above-average performance against the blitz, what do you feel is the best defense to use against him?
A: Great question. I will have be posting an in-depth evaluation concerning Romo’s performance versus the blitz once I finish my film study of the season, so be sure to check back for that.
Romo has proven year after year that his athleticism and ability to improvise make it extremely difficult to blitz him. While you always want to get pressure on the quarterback, sending five or more defenders very often can be risky, as a failure to get to the quarterback can lend itself to giving up big plays, particularly against a quarterback like Romo who can extend a play so well.
Still, just sitting back in cover two or three and letting Romo pick you apart is not the answer either. From what I have studied on film, the most effective way to attack Romo is by constantly changing up your approach and employing “sneaky” coverages. Zone blitzes, for example, are something against which he has struggled in the past. A zone blitz involves dropping back players who are not generally in coverage, such as defensive linemen, and sending linebackers or defensive backs in their place. The reason this can be effective is it gives the immediate appearance of a blitz to the quarterback, but the defense can still drop eight men into coverage. Thus, the risk of a blitz is lessened, while the upside is still available.
Ultimately, to combat Romo’s effectiveness versus the blitz, I would mix up unique coverages and zone blitzes, trying to not allow him to get comfortable or figure out what the defense is going to do pre-snap. Perhaps showing strange defensive looks, such as the new “Amoeba” defense that teams such as Pittsburgh and Denver have implemented, would do the trick (the “Amoeba” defense is used during passing downs and is characterized by having no down-linemen and players shuffling around, confusing the quarterback and offensive line as to which players are rushing). Still, containing Romo is easier said than done.
Q: With Miles Austin a restricted free agent, does that mean he is free to sign with another club? Will the Cowboys sign him long-term before that happens?
Todd Rowley, Sacramento, CA
A: Yes, Miles Austin is free to sign an offer sheet with another team, but Dallas then has seven days to match that offer. If they choose to not do so, they would receive the highest compensation possible from a RFA, a first and a third-round pick. I do expect the Cowboys to sign Austin long-term, as I see it as the #1 offseason priority. Austin was a beast all season, and although he has only proved himself for one season, he is not the type of player who will give less effort when he gets his first huge check.
There is also a possibility that the ‘Boys could franchise Austin, meaning he would receive a one-year deal worth the average salary of the top five wide receivers in the NFL. I see this as a long-shot, however, as Jerry Jones rarely decides to use the franchise tag. I think the Cowboys have seen enough to know that Austin is their go-to receiver of the future.