There are few areas of the 2009 Dallas Cowboys that can be depicted as being "soft", but there is one area in particular that is of great concern, moving forward. The offensive line of the Cowboys must be better next year in order for this team to continue to progress.
Last Sunday in Minnesota, Tony Romo spent the majority of the afternoon running for his life, and the rest of the day on his back. To put it mildly the Cowboys offensive line played miserably in every way.
The players would probably say they just had a bad day, and they would be wrong. Marc Colombo, Doug Free, Andre Gurode, Kyle Kosier, and Leonard Davis were outplayed, out worked, and just downright beaten.
I've heard fans discussing their displeasure with the play calling of Jason Garrett, and specifically his supposed fascination with the delayed runs. Jason Garrett fell in love with that type of running play for only one reason—it was/is the best way he could think of to disguise the Cowboys' problems along the line.
For being one of the largest lines in the league this line plays extremely soft and lacks a nasty streak.
Marc Colombo was supposed to be a big lift for this unit, if for no other reason than his nasty streak. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, that did not happen. Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards (a solid DE, but far from being All Pro) repeatedly blew past Colombo like he was a street walker begging for change. And let's be honest, as well as Doug Free played in his absence, he would have no chance against Jared Allen.
The Cowboys tried to slow the bleeding by keeping extra blockers in—the Vikings just pinned their ears back and attacked the soft interior of the Dallas line.
The Cowboys have some work to do here, and that work is going to start with upgrading the tackle position.
Flozell Adams has been one of the best left tackles in the game for a long time, but his best years are far behind him. The time is now to find his successor.
Marc Colombo has been great for the Cowboys (outside of last week in Minnesota) but his spot will be heavily evaluated by the coaching staff.
Last year Dallas drafted Robert Brewster with the hope that he could come in and eventually take over one of those tackle spots. However, Brewster went down early with an injury and never played a snap in 2009.
The Offensive line will most assuredly be addressed in this year’s draft. But just who are the most viable players?
Let's take a look...
Russell Okung - Senior Tackle from Oklahoma State 6'5" 300 lbs.
Graded by many as the best Tackle in this year’s draft, some throughout this year even said that he may have a shot at being the first overall selection. While he was not the starter at the beginning of his freshman season at OSU, by game 6 of that year he was and he never looked back. Okung is an athletic tackle with quick feet. He's able to handle the edge-speed rushers, yet still strong enough to handle the bull rush. Coming from the pass happy Big 12 afforded him the opportunities to hone his pass protection skills, but don't think for a second that he's a one-trick-pony.
He is an excellent run blocking tackle and his agility and quickness allow him to get out in front and open huge holes.
Russell will be long gone by the time the Cowboys make their first selection as it stands now, but if management feels that they need to replace Flo quickly, this would be the guy to move up in the draft for.
Anthony Davis - Junior Tackle from Rutgers 6'6" 325 lbs.
Anthony Davis is one of the top offensive linemen in the nation, and before that he was one of the top prep offensive linemen in the nation, and odds are very good that he will be a top offensive lineman in the NFL.
Davis has been a man among boys in the Big East conference.
As a sophomore in 2008 he was second team all conference. As a freshman he was a First Team Freshman All America at Rutgers.
Anthony Davis is the Prototypical NFL Left Tackle—he is big, strong, agile, and moves extremely well for a big man. Davis will likely be on the board in the vicinity of where Dallas selects in the first round, and if he is there, Dallas would have a very difficult time letting him get away.
Bryan Bulaga - Junior Tackle from Iowa 6'6" 312 lbs.
Bryan Bulaga is just another outstanding offensive lineman to come out of Lineman U. (Iowa). Bryan began his collegiate career as a Guard and he started five games at that spot as a freshman.
The following spring he became the starting left tackle at Iowa, where he has remained the last two years.
Bulaga is big and has exceptionally quick feet for his size. He has very long arms which he uses superbly to run speed-rusher’s right of the play. While he is not as strong as a Joe Thomas or Jake Long, he's still very young and has the body to accommodate some added bulk. Bulaga is an excellent pass blocker—his main priority will be to focus on his run blocking. As with Anthony Davis, he will be in the Cowboys area code and it'll be hard to pass him by.
Trent Williams - Senior Tackle from Oklahoma 6'5" 318 lbs.
Trent Williams is a very large human being. He has all the physical attributes that one would look for in a Left Tackle. Trent started his career at Oklahoma as a right Tackle, and was only just moved to left tackle before the 2009 season. He's a very solid Tackle but in my opinion he's an underachiever.
This was the year he was supposed to be a dominant force for Oklahoma, but if any of you watched any Sooner games this year what you saw was an extremely porous line, and it was Trent Williams leading the charge.
Trent Williams will more than likely be drafted among the first four or five linemen taken, and will more than likely never make any kind of contribution. Please Dallas, stay away.
Charles Brown - Senior Tackle from USC 6'5" 290 lbs.
Charles Brown is yet another athletic lineman to emerge from USC.
While at USC he played as a "light" tackle (light as far as NFL standards go) but he has the frame to accommodate some extra bulk without it affecting his athleticism. He's very fast and agile coming out of his stance, and has above average mobility, body control, balance, and change of direction skills.
His major flaw, however, is his lack of physicality, power, and mass.
He struggles with holding his ground against the bull rusher. Brown has a ton of upside and could step right in and perform well in pass protection. But it will take time, bulk, and strength to improve his run blocking. He could be a very nice 2nd or 3rd round selection for Dallas.
Bruce Campbell - Senior Tackle from Maryland 6'7" 310 lbs.
Campbell has all the tools—length, athleticism, size, and good footwork—to be an exceptional tackle in the NFL.
He sets up quickly, is able to correct and recover, gets to the second level, and is exceptional in space.
As a run blocker he seals very well and get this folks, he is the perfect tackle fit for a team that likes to run screens and delayed runs! However, where there is good there is always bad. Campbell is still pretty raw. Yes, he is an elite pass blocker, but his run blocking needs quite a bit of work.
He's just not aggressive enough in the run game.
He sometimes gets lazy with his technique and has been known to lose the leverage battle. There were a few times at Maryland that he appeared to have a case of the don’t want to's but that team was awful and he was young. But he'll have to prove his dedication. This guy is the wild card of the bunch, he could be a top 20 pick or he could fall to the 3rd or 4th round.
Could Cowboys Take Another 2nd Round Risk On DT Jeffery Simmons?
The Dallas Cowboys have taken a few risks when on the clock in the second round of the NFL Draft in recent years. Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith, both important starters on defense, were drafted to the Cowboys after they went down on many teams' draft boards. In 2019, they'll have the opportunity to take yet another risk. Recently, one of the best defensive tackles in this year's class, Jeffery Simmons, suffered a torn ACL while going through a drill during his workout in Florida.
Simmons took to Twitter to share the unfortunate news that will drastically affect his draft stock only a couple of months before the Draft.
Before the injury, Jeffery Simmons was seen as a top draft prospect. Some even envisioned him being drafted in the top 10. As a 21-year old defensive tackle from Mississippi State, Simmons had an impressive career during his time in college football. In three seasons he managed to rack up 157 tackles and seven sacks.
If one thing is clear it's that the Mississippi State product will be an impact player when he gets on the field on Sundays. His quick reaction on the get-off will still interest a lot of teams despite his injury. A sound defender on the running and passing game, he'll pay big dividends for whichever team decides to pull the trigger on him come April.
Due to their recent second round draft history, I can't help but wonder if the Dallas Cowboys will consider him when they're on the clock in the second round. This year though, there will be a big difference. Pick #58 will be the first time the Cowboys will be on the clock in this year's draft after trading away their first rounder for Amari Cooper last year.
It will be tough for them to wait until the third round to pick a player they could actually put on the field for the 2019 season. Specially considering the fact that they're a football team with title aspirations this year. Despite their history and the fact that Simmons will be one hell of a pro, I believe the team will not want to make such a pick in the second without a first round selection.
The team has a big need at DT, although Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins were very serviceable in 2018. We'll see how tempted they are if Jeffery Simmons is still on the board when they're on the clock.
Cowboys Draft: Film Notes on Maryland Safety Darnell Savage Jr.
The Dallas Cowboys defense was one of the better units throughout the season, but it wasn't without its flaws. An area where they struggled was in creating turnovers and at times against the run. As good as they were in 2018, they have positions where they can use upgrades; defensive tackle and safety. Xavier Woods showed a lot of promise in his second season with the Dallas Cowboys and should continue to be a prominent player moving forward, but Jeff Heath's full-time role may have run its course. Today we're going to look at Darnell Savage Jr, safety from Maryland.
Per College Football Reference, Darnell Savage Jr. stands at 5-11 and weighs in right at 200 pounds. In his last three years at Maryland he played in 35 games. He averaged 56.67 tackles, 2.67 interceptions (3.5 per season over his last two seasons and four in his senior season), and three tackles for loss over his final three seasons. He had eight pass deflections as a junior and two more as a senior.
Savage could be a player that's in play for the Dallas Cowboys at number 58 of the second round.
I watched the Texas and Temple Games from 2018.
Darnell Savage Jr. Film Notes
- Maryland lined him up in two-deep cover two looks a lot and dropped him into different coverages. From his two-deep alignment, he would move into cover-3, cover-4, and man coverages.
- Temple or Texas looked to avoid him as part of their game plans. The one time the either Texas or Temple through his way, he came down from his 2-deep look into man coverage and jumped a five yard out route and intercepted the pass, taking it to the end zone for a touchdown.
- He's excellent in diagnosing bubbles screens and swing passes. On several occasions he met the ball carrier five yards behind the line of scrimmage and dropped him for a loss.
- Savage wraps up in the open field against. Once he diagnoses the play, he gets moving toward the ball in a flash.
- Willing to take on bigger blockers and receivers with the ball in their hands. Stymied the 6-4 225 pound Lil' Jordan Humphrey from Texas on a bubble screen after Humphrey had broken one tackle. Savage wrapped him up and brought him to the ground.
- Temple attempted to run a reverse after the hand off and Savage came all the way from across the field to meet the runner for a six yard loss.
- Plays with excellent speed and aggressiveness when he sees the play. Sometimes Savage gets caught watching the action on his side of the field and doesn't recognize what is happening in the middle or opposite side of the field.
- Several times on the read-option, it appeared that he didn't recognize that the QB had given the ball away. It could be that he was schemed to take the quarterback, but one time the runner went against the grain to Savage's side of the field and he was unable to get to him before he scored a short touchdown.
- Maryland had Savage cover tight ends and wide receivers and again, Temple and Texas didn't throw his way much at all.
- Again, in a two-deep safety look came up from 10 yards deep to make a play on a toss to the running back and tackled him for a four yard loss. It's dangerous to run things to the perimeter with this guy. If he gets to the line of scrimmage unblocked, he's bringing you down.
- When blocked on runs to the perimeter, he does a good job of stringing the play to the outside. Savage works his blocker and doesn't give up on the play. He fights to get unblocked in order to make a play.
- When a team runs play action or hands the ball off out of shotgun or pistol formations, Savage is slower to react and diagnose the play. He'll need to get quicker in processing what's happening there at the next level.
- One of the more impressive plays I saw him make was on a trick play. Temple attempted to run a wide receiver pass to the outside. Everyone bought the wide receiver reverse and even Savage did too, but was able to use his quickness and speed to make up five yards of separation that the Temple receiver had on him to be in good coverage. The Temple receiver wasn't able to come down with the catch and Savage's coverage affected that.
Darnell Savage Jr. doesn't have a ton of height, but he's an explosive player who can play down in the box and in two deep looks for the Cowboys. He's a guy that would pair well with Xavier Woods as you could use those two interchangeably depending on the matchup you face week-to-week. He's an aggressive player who uses his speed to get into the play and cause disruption. Savage could be around for the Dallas Cowboys at 58 and if they don't sign one of the big name free agent safeties, should be the selection. If he isn't a day one starter, he'd be starting by the end of the season.
Pre-Combine Position Rankings: Sorting Out The Tight Ends
It's pretty much universally agreed that the Dallas Cowboys have a need for a starting tight end, particularly one who can stretch the field as a receiving threat.
Despite not having a first round pick, this class should give the Cowboys an opportunity to add tight end talent to their roster through the NFL Draft.
Will that be TE1 talent, though? Or will it just be another replacement-level tight end on a roster which already seems full of them?
Let's get into my top 5 tight ends of this 2019 class, and see what they could potentially bring to the Cowboys this season and beyond.
1. TJ Hockenson, Iowa
The clear TE1 in this class is TJ Hockenson. The 2018 John Mackey Award winner earned his way to the top of this list with his versatility, lining up in-line and as a slot receiver for Iowa during his college career.
At 6'5" 243 pounds, Hockenson looks like he was made in a tight-end producing lab, and he has the athleticism and ability to maximize his build.
In the run game TJ Hockenson is a good blocker, showcasing excellent effort and competitiveness through his blocks. A technical route runner with good hands, a plus-catch radius, and legitimate yards-after-catch ability, Hockenson has a chance to be the very first offensive skill player off the board this Spring.
2. Noah Fant, Iowa
Hockenson's teammate at Iowa, Noah Fant, comes in at number two on my tight end rankings. While Hockenson is the more well-rounded of the two players, Fant certainly has more athletic upside. I expect him to test better than Hockenson will at the combine, and has the receiving skills to be a real threat at the next level.
Noah Fant fits the bill for a modern NFL tight end, flexing out wide and threatening defenses vertically with his receiving ability. A long player with good route running ability and speed, Fant is able to create separation against defensive backs in a variety of ways.
Fant is far from a one-trick pony, and would be an excellent addition to a Cowboys offense which is yearning for this type of flex-threat from the tight end position.
Unfortunately, he won't last anywhere near 58th overall.
3. Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
Can I interest you in a tight end who averaged 16.3 yards per catch and scored 7 touchdowns last season? If so, meet Alabama's Irv Smith Jr.
Smith is the number three tight end on my board entering the combine, and I really don't expect him to drop whatsoever in the coming months. Smith is an athletic player who runs good routes and offers excellent run blocking ability. He's not as refined as Hockenson nor as athletic/explosive as Fant, but he combines the in-line and flex abilities of the two to a certain extent.
Smith is the first somewhat-plausible target for the Cowboys on this list, though I'd still be surprised if he lasted until 58th overall.
4. Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Jace Sternberger came out of nowhere last season at Texas A&M. Relatively unknown before the 2018 season, Sternberger finished the year with 800+ yards and 10 touchdowns on 48 catches, and earned All-American honors for his production.
Now he has a chance to be a second round pick in the 2019 draft, and is finding himself mocked to the Cowboys by many major draft media outlets. Sternberger fits the prototype of the modern receiving tight end, with better speed and hands than most others in his class. Though he is still raw in many areas, his upside is intriguing, and there's no doubt he's a pretty good player as is.
Like the first three, it's hard to imagine I will move Sternbeger any lower than fourth in this class, and he is a legitimate option for the Cowboys 58th overall.
5. Isaac Nauta, Georgia
While the first four tight ends on this list will make their money with their passing game production, Georgia's Isaac Nauta looks like more of an old-school run blocker. Nauta is right up there with any tight end in this class in terms of blocking, and would be an immediate contributor to the Cowboys' run game in that area.
He's still growing in multiple areas as a receiver, however, such as his route running and yards-after-catch ability. Still, I think Nauta is much better as a receiver than his college production would suggest. He, like others in that talented Georgia offense, got lost in the shuffle a bit, and didn't get the number of targets he could have seen elsewhere.
There's a real possibility Nauta is available at 58 when the Cowboys pick, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were the pick either.
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