The defensive line is a position of strength for the Dallas Cowboys.
Just ask Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys owner/general manager made that declaration after the first round of the draft, when Dallas decided to pass on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, opting to give more weight to the opinions of two prized new assistant coaches than the scouting department.
Jones’ rationale, which was a regurgitation of what he heard from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, was that Floyd wasn’t “quick twitch” enough to play the 3-technique tackle in the Cowboys’ new scheme. The Cowboys didn’t believe it was in their best interests to use a first-round pick on a 4-3 nose tackle.
Kiffin and Marinelli certainly know what they’re looking for in a 3-technique defensive tackle. After all, they coached Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in Tampa. (They didn’t draft him, though. Sapp was coming off his rookie year when Kiffin and Marinelli were hired by the Buccaneers.)
The real head-scratcher here is why the Cowboys didn’t consider improving their defensive tackle depth a primary concern.
The confidence in the defensive ends is understandable. DeMarcus Ware is one of the most dominant pass-rushers in NFL history. Anthony Spencer is coming off a career year. They’re making the transition from 3-4 outside linebackers back to the position they both played in college, but the Cowboys have good reason to believe the ends will be a strength of the defense. (Next year isn’t so certain with Spencer playing for a franchise-tag deal for the second straight year, but 2012 third-round pick Tyrone Crawford has a lot of fans at Valley Ranch.)
There are a lot of question marks, however, at defensive tackle.
There’s a lot of buzz around Valley Ranch about how former Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff will thrive in Kiffin’s scheme. You hear no concern from the Cowboys about Ratliff, who turns 32 in August, having his sack totals decline in five straight seasons, including when injuries limited him to six games in a sackless 2012.
“He will flourish, I emphasize ‘flourish,’ in this defensive scheme,” Jones said. “He is a natural 3-technique. He is always highly respected because he could play nose as well as he could with his forte being quickness, high agility, high motor. He is an integral part of what we’re doing. And I think he’s going to have an outstanding year.”
If Ratliff plays the 3-technique, who is the Cowboys’ nose tackle? They decided they didn’t need Floyd and didn’t address the position later in the draft, either.
Will it be Jason Hatcher? That’s a heck of a transition for a seven-year veteran who has been a 3-4 defensive end his entire career.
Sean Lissemore? He might be a quality rotation player, but his performance when pressed into playing the majority of snaps at nose tackle in the final month of the season offered no indication he’s ready to be a full-time anchor of the run defense.
Brian Price? Tampa Bay’s 2012 second-round pick was out of football last season after being cut by the Bears. It’s tough to count on a guy who’s trying to get his career back on track after it was derailed by injuries and other issues.
Josh Brent? Unfortunately, he’s more likely to be in a jail cell than on a football field next season.
Maybe Floyd isn’t a great fit for the Cowboys’ defensive scheme. That doesn’t explain why they have completely ignored a glaring need at nose tackle.