ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers win on such a consistent basis that they rarely have draft picks in the top half of the first round. On Tuesday, I talked to several members of the organization about what they look for in players via the draft or free agency. I'm writing a column Thursday about why the Cowboys have fallen off the map in terms of playoff success over the past 15 years, and I thought the Steelers (and the Packers) might provide a good point of reference.
JenkinsSteelers secondary coach Ray Horton, who once won a Super Bowl as a safety for the Dallas Cowboys, brought up Ryan Clark as an example. The former Redskins safety gets lost in Troy Polamalu's shadow a lot of the time, but he's invaluable to the Steelers' success on defense. Clark's started 44 games for the Steelers over the past three seasons.
"When he's on the field, you don't notice him," Horton told me Tuesday. "But when he was out earlier this season, we're saying, 'What's going on out there?' He's not flashy, but everything runs smoothly when he's on the field. You have to have those types of players to be successful."
Horton told me that when he's preparing for the draft, he's constantly asking himself the question, 'Would I want my job depending on that guy?'
Since Horton still keeps up with the Cowboys from afar and was actually mentioned as a candidate at defensive coordinator, I asked what he thought of Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins when he was coming out of South Florida three years ago.
"I didn't want him at the time because he wouldn't tackle," said Horton. "If you're going to play for us, you have to be able to tackle. Or you need to be picking off a lot of balls."
Jenkins appeared to put it all together in '09 as he made his first Pro Bowl team. But he regressed in 2010, and as Horton predicted, tackling is not one of Jenkins' strengths. In fact, there are two painful reminders for Cowboys fans ('08 and '10) of Jenkins going out of his way to avoid contact with ballcarriers.
I think the Cowboys' secondary was undermined by an inconsistent pass-rush this past season. But Jenkins still had a poor season. Perhaps having the Steelers and Packers in town for a week will help Jerry Jones have a first-hand look at how successful teams are built.
Or he could just keep doing it his way.