The Senior Bowl started practices on Monday in Mobile, Ala., a Gulf Coast city that becomes a pre-draft convention for a lot of NFL coaches, staffs and personnel evaluators.
That includes the Dallas Cowboys, who will send coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones, along with their coordinators and some assistants, to watch the players work.
It has paid off for the Cowboys before. They paid sharp attention to DeMarco Murray at the 2011 workouts, looking for the flaw in his game that had many scouts keeping him out of the first round despite an impressive career at Oklahoma.
What can the Cowboys accomplish in Mobile this year, in addition to perhaps filling out a few holes in their coaching staff? Time will tell. Here are the areas the Cowboys likely will be focused on this week:
Never miss a local story.
The Cowboys want a big, fresh defensive tackle for the 4-3. They can get a look at five possibilities, including two blue-chippers, Sylvester Williams of North Carolina and Kawann Short of Purdue, who are rated right below the top four DTs in the draft -- Star Lotulelei of Utah and juniors Jonathan Hankins of Ohio State, Sheldon Richardson of Missouri and Sharif Floyd of Florida (none of whom are in Mobile). There are three other defensive tackles for the Cowboys to watch up close, including John Jenkins of Georgia, Jordan Hill of Penn State and Everett Dawkins of Florida State.
None of the best center or guard prospects are at the Senior Bowl. But two first- to third-round guards and two late-round centers will get a chance to stand out. Dallas Thomas of Tennessee is an outside first-round prospect, and Larry Warford of Kentucky could go in the second. At center, Braxston Cave of Notre Dame and Joe Madsen of West Virginia headline the Mobile center class.
3Say hello to
T.J. McDonald is the safety who hit hard at USC last year. It was the same defense run by new Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who has all the info he needs on his former player. So Kiffin and the Cowboys will want to watch Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams of Georgia and Phillip Thomas of Fresno State. Kenny Vaccaro of Texas was going to be in Mobile, but he pulled out of the game late.
4Find another DeMarco
We're not talking only about the characteristics -- size, toughness, feel for open space, hands -- although that is an objective as the Cowboys look for a backup in case Murray has to miss time again. We're talking about a top-round talent who might shine in practice, if not necessarily the game. In 2011, Murray got only two carries at the Senior Bowl. Mike Gillislee of Florida is close to Murray in size, is fast and can catch the ball.
You might as well. The Senior Bowl is rich in them this year, unlike last year, when Kellen Moore and Ryan Lindley failed to live up to expectations -- although Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden were good in the game. This year, all six quarterbacks are rated in the top 10, led by Tyler Wilson of Arkansas. Who might be of interest to the Cowboys? Two names: Mike Glennon of North Carolina State (Wilson's former backup with the Wolfpack) and Zac Dysert of Miami (Ohio). Both have big arms and Troy Aikman size.