There’s little doubt Charles Tapper loves football.
The second-year pro loves it so much that he’s in the process of changing his entire game — just to be a regular in the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line rotation.
To say there’s a need for depth on the line is an understatement, considering the recent history of suspensions with perhaps more to come if David Irving joins Randy Gregory on the suspended list, as has been reported.
The idea of Tapper shifting from an interior spot to the 5-technique — lining up on the outside shoulder of the tackle — is a mandate from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
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“Even if some of those guys were still around, I still feel like I’m a real option for this team,” Tapper said. “You can only control the things you can control, and I feel like I’m good enough as an athlete to compete.
“That’s why we’re all here, and we came here for a reason and that’s competing against the best offensive line in the world. Around here, they say if you’re quicker than everybody, show us. If you say you’re an athlete and you’re going to be athletic, show us. At the end of the day, I just want to give coach Marinelli a hard decision to make.”
This is Tapper’s second season in Dallas. The 2016 fourth-round pick missed his rookie season while managing a spinal defect (pars defect, a stress fracture in the vertebral arch) that flared up before the start of the season.
“At Oklahoma, they helped me manage it pretty well,” Tapper said. “But once I got here, it’s on me to do the right things: eating right, staying away from processed foods and working on my core strength.”
Folks should get out and try this in the front yard. Just come off the snap against somebody about 5-10 times and see how much energy you lose just in that initial rush. Then think about working on guys like Tyron Smith and big Chaz Green.
Cowboys defensive tackle Charles Tapper, on adjusting to the Cowboys’ defensive scheme
And then there’s the issue of moving from an interior presence in the Sooners’ scheme to a pass-rush mentality with the Cowboys.
“I was basically a nose guard at OU,” he said. “Now, they want me beating the tackle off the ball.”
It’s a fundamental shift from where Tapper mostly plugged the middle of the field with size and strength and forced college offenses to the edge.
Marinelli’s scheme is different because the focus is to get all defensive linemen up the field.
“I wasn’t prepared for it really,” Tapper said. “They wanted me running, and nothing can prepare you for that except being in that moment and getting in better condition coming into training camp.”
Tapper said he’s shed nearly 20 pounds and is down to around 11 percent body fat. The lighter frame is making him more agile in helping to give Marinelli what he desires.
The reality of getting there, though, wasn’t easy to grasp, and Tapper threw out a recreational challenge.
“Folks should get out and try this in the front yard. Just come off the snap against somebody about 5-10 times and see how much energy you lose just in that initial rush,” Tapper said. “Then think about working on guys like Tyron Smith and big Chaz Green.
“These are guys that weigh 315 that can move faster going backward than most people move going forward. And then they get wide and put their hands on you and you feel every bit of it. It’s a fight every play.”
A fight that Tapper said he knows he can win for the Cowboys, both on and off the field.
Mini-camp is over. The Cowboys report to training camp in Oxnard, Calif., in July.
“I’m good to go,” he said. “I just can’t have that ice cream when I want it or that Whataburger, and that’s a tough deal.”
Dallas Cowboys 2017 schedule
Aug. 3 vs. Arizona (NBC)* 7 p.m.
Aug. 12 at Los Angeles Rams (NFL Network) 8 p.m.
Aug. 19 vs. Indianapolis (NFL Network) 6 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Oakland 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Houston 7 p.m.
* Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio
Sept. 10 vs. New York Giants (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Denver (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Arizona (ESPN) 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams (KDFW/4) Noon
Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Oct. 15 Bye
Oct. 22 at San Francisco (KDFW/4) 3:05 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Washington (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 5 vs. Kansas City (KTVT 11) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Atlanta (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23 vs. LA Chargers (KTVT/11) 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 vs. Washington (KXAS/5) 7:25 p.m.
Dec. 10 at New York Giants (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 17 at Raiders (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 24 vs. Seattle (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Philadelphia (KDFW/4) Noon