Cowboys target defensive tackle after last year’s draft mixup

Posted Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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It seems odd that the Dallas Cowboys have made drafting a defensive lineman or two the top priority in the 2014 NFL Draft one year after not taking any in seven rounds.

Yet the Cowboys still have regrets about how they ranked defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd fifth overall on their draft board last year and passed on him with the 18th pick.

The Cowboys moved down in the first round in a trade with the 49ers, taking center Travis Frederick and picking up an extra third-round pick, which turned into receiver Terrance Williams.

Vice president Stephen Jones said the decision was sound, especially considering they picked up two starters in Frederick and Williams.

But Floyd’s ranking by the Cowboys was the problem, which Jones called a miscommunication between the coaching staff and scouts.

The scouts had him rated high, but the coaches didn’t think he was a fit for their 4-3 scheme — a disconnect that was borne out of the team’s decision to switch from the 3-4 with the hiring of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator in place of Rob Ryan.

“That was unfortunate with Sharrif,” Jones said. “I don’t want to single a guy out, but I think that can happen when you change a system. That was a mistake. That’s a miscommunication between the coaches and the staff.

“The good news is we didn’t make the mistake. We fixed it before it happened. We would have liked to have it fixed before we put him on the board. It won’t happen again. We don’t put guys on the board the coaches don’t feel is a good fit for our scheme. It should be guys we want to draft.”

The Cowboys are making sure the coaches and scouts are on the same page regarding the types of players they are looking for.

Floyd, who was drafted by the Vikings and registered 2.5 sacks as a rookie, was graded right if the Cowboys were still playing the 3-4 in which he would have been a nose tackle.

But defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn’t rate nose tackles as premium players in his scheme. He covets pass rushing tackles and ends, which is why owner Jerry Jones explained away the decision to pass on Floyd by saying he wasn’t a quick-twitch guy.

“Unless a guy can be your 3 technique or a pass rush end, Rod doesn’t believe you should take him in the first round,” Stephen Jones said. “He believes you can find noses in the middle of the draft or late in the draft. We believe Sharrif was a nose, a damn good nose but a nose.”

Marinelli’s philosophy should help them crystallize their draft board as the Cowboys focus on possibly taking a tackle for the 16th overall pick this year.

It’s little wonder that the team has spent a lot of time talking to Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine.

He met informally with the team Friday night and will conduct formal interviews Sunday.

Donald led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss last year and notched 11 sacks. Donald believes he would be a perfect fit for the Cowboys’ scheme.

“I would love to play for anyone, but it would be great to play for them,” Donald said. “I love the way they play up front, 4-3… I feel like I will fit that scheme great.”

Clarence E. Hill Jr. 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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