Dallas Cowboys: James Marten
|Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys and the upcoming NFL draft.
Fluker may well be the Cowboys' pick Thursday, but the vibe is they don’t have Fluker that high on their board.
Here’s what the Cowboys should do: take the best player regardless of the position.
If at No. 18 the Cowboys’ draft board has an offensive lineman as the 29th-best player -- and that’s not how they configure their draft board, by the way, but just go with it for now -- don’t reach on that player.
When you reach, you’re taking a lesser player and end up with a lesser roster overall.
In a draft that does not have the “sexy” skill players, I don’t see one of the team’s top line targets making it to No. 18.
The Cowboys have taken one offensive lineman in the first round since 1981 and that was Tyron Smith two years ago. They have found players like Larry Allen, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode in the second round.
But the Cowboys' problems along the offensive line are not because they haven’t taken enough first-round picks. The problem is they can’t identify offensive lineman in the early and middle rounds where other teams have.
Despite the last year-plus, Doug Free (fourth, 2007) had a decent enough run, but the Cowboys have received nothing or next to nothing from David Arkin (fourth, 2011), Robert Brewster (third, 2009), James Marten (third, 2007), Jacob Rogers (second, 2004) and Stephen Peterman (third, 2004).
For months the Cowboys agonize over their draft board. They try to fit everybody in where they believe they should go. If you just skip that process on draft day, then you have wasted energy, time and money.
There is no doubt that the Cowboys have a need along the offensive line. There’s no doubt they should take an offensive lineman at No. 18 -- if he's the best player.
But “should” and “must” are two different things.
Here’s my must: stick to the board.
|Randy says you don't have to cheer the Cowboys' Week 10 win, just don't jeer it.
I’m also wondering these five things:
** As many wonder if this is the week DeMarco Murray returns from a sprained foot, I wonder if it makes sense to keep the running back out another week. Hear me out before you faint. The Cowboys have two games in five days coming up with Cleveland on Sunday and Washington on Thanksgiving. Murray has missed the last four games (really four and a half since he had only one third-quarter carry Oct. 14 at Baltimore) with a sprained foot. Asking him to play two games in such a short span might not be wise. Why not hold Murray out until the Thanksgiving game against the Redskins and give him 10 days of rest before he plays again? This is a serious injury he had and one that was close to a season-ender. There are no guarantees that he comes back as good as new, but the Cowboys can give him the best opportunity to play in the final six games. I understand you can look at that 10-day break in another way with that allowing him to rest significantly after the Browns and Redskins games. Cleveland has a poor run defense, so I just think the wisest thing to do would be to give Murray another week to get stronger.
** As some of the long-time readers here know, I’ve not been in the camp of moving Jay Ratliff from nose tackle to defensive end in the base defense. I just don’t believe that what makes Ratliff special at nose tackle would translate as well at end. And since Rob Ryan has called Ratliff the best nose tackle in football, I don’t think he wants to move him either. But this injury to Kenyon Coleman presents an intriguing opportunity. Would moving Ratliff to end help him and his sprained left ankle contend better than having to hold up at nose tackle? I wonder if the Cowboys thinking about using Josh Brent at nose tackle full time with Ratliff, whose left foot/ankle has been bothered by high and low sprains and a case of plantar fasciitis, moving outside. If the Cowboys want to get their best players on the field more, which is how they described the move of Brandon Carr to safety in sub packages earlier in the season, then is Brent a better option at nose than a Tyrone Craford, Sean Lissemore or Marcus Spears at defensive end with Coleman out? It might be.
** I wonder what kind of market there will be for Mike Jenkins in the offseason. He did not play against Philadelphia because of back spasms after sitting out of practice last Thursday and Friday. He played one snap at Carolina on Oct. 21. He missed the first game of the season as he continued to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. When Jenkins has played, he has done a good job in the team’s sub packages. His absence against the Eagles was felt even more because of Morris Claiborne’s struggles. Had Jenkins been around, the Cowboys could have used Jenkins to allow the rookie to clear his head in a five-penalty afternoon. They were forced to use Vince Agnew for a handful of plays when Orlando Scandrick went down with what looked like a calf injury. Jenkins’ marketability took a hit when the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr and drafted Claiborne, but he could have been in position to cash in with a solid season as a backup. It’s not that he hasn’t played well. It’s that he hasn’t played enough. He turns 28 in March and I wonder if he is looking at a one-year, make-good offer from a team rather than a larger deal he could have received.
** In the last two games Dwayne Harris has produced punt returns of 37 and 78 yards, with that 78-yarder going for a touchdown against the Eagles. He’s proof that you don’t need to be the fastest guy in the world to be a punt returner. Speed might be more important at kick returner, but I wonder if the Cowboys should give Harris a look there as well. He is not a perfect practice player, according to those around at Valley Ranch, but the game is not too big for him either. He has a feel for when things get real, which is a good trait, but also a frustrating one for coaches who want to see a player perform in practice too. Harris is strong enough to make the first tackler miss and he seems to fall forward all of the time. The kick return game has not been good whether Felix Jones or Lance Dunbar have been the returners. Maybe it’s time to give Harris a shot there, too. And I think he could get in the mix at wide receiver as well. From Jason Garrett’s post-game comments against the Eagles about Harris, you get the sense he wants to see more of the second-year wide receiver.
** I’m still wondering about this for some reason, but is it time to put David Arkin in the bin with other failed offensive line picks of recent years with Robert Brewster, James Marten and Jacob Rogers? Arkin, a fourth-round pick in 2011, has been active for four games this season but yet to see a snap. He was inactive for every game last year. For the first time this season on Sunday, the Cowboys chose to go with guard Mackenzy Bernadeau as the backup center even though he has yet to play a snap there in his career. Arkin was viewed as a project when picked but he struggled this year in camp with his confidence, especially having to play center when Phil Costa and Bill Nagy were lost to injuries. The ability to anchor is the key question. He’s just not strong enough yet. If last year was viewed as a redshirt season, then this season has to be viewed as a lost season because of how little faith the team has shown in him. With Kevin Kowalski practicing now but still on the physically unable to perform list, the Cowboys could use a roster spot. If there is a shred of good news it’s that Arkin is practice squad eligible if the team wants to continue to see his progress.
But it does appear that Arkin, a fourth-round pick who was inactive for every game as a rookie, will be added to the list of Cowboys mid-round offensive line busts.
Drafting and developing offensive linemen has been an issue for the Cowboys for well over a decade. Just since Jason Garrett’s return to Valley Ranch in 2007, the Cowboys have cut a couple of third-round tackles (James Marten and Robert Brewster) during their second season.
Tackle Doug Free, who played well enough to earn a four-year, $32 million contract, is the one notable exception to the Cowboys’ trend of mid-round misses on offensive linemen. Perhaps Arkin could follow a similar path as Free, a fourth-round pick who was active for only one game his first two seasons.
It’s just hard to envision the Cowboys relying on Arkin after this preseason, when he averaged about a penalty per quarter.
It isn’t really fair to hold Arkin’s struggles snapping the ball against him. He had never played center until the first week of training camp, when he was the emergency solution after a rash of injuries at the position.
If only snaps were Arkin’s biggest problem ...
The primary concern about Arkin is still his lack of power. That was painfully apparent on back-to-back plays in the second half of the preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins.
Playing right guard, Arkin just got plain whipped by two different Dolphins defensive linemen fighting for roster spots. Undrafted rookie Isaako Aaitui got under Arkin’s pads, pushed him back five yards and planted him flat on his back at the feet of the quarterback on the first play. Seventh-round pick Kheeston Randall beat Arkin for a sack the next snap.
The Cowboys were going to be looking for interior offensive line help anyway. Those plays simply illustrated why, and how far away Arkin is from being able to help the Cowboys.
Several young players, including left tackle Doug Free, saw extensive action in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' victory over Seattle on Sunday.
The Cowboys have been pleased with the play of starter Flozell Adams but eventually would like Free to take over the starting position.
Free, a fourth-round pick in 2007 who's played in only one regular-season game prior to this season, took over for Adams on a few plays in a Week 3 win over Carolina.
At some point, the Cowboys have to find out what they have in the 25-year-old Free. They've tried to replace Adams, 34, the last few years but draft picks Pat McQuistan and James Marten, who's no longer with the team, haven't panned out. Meanwhile, Free has emerged as the backup to Adams.
"I think it's important for us. That's why we played him some," coach Wade Phillips said of Free. "I just think if a guy ... if he practices good enough and is good enough to play, then he deserves to get in the game sometimes.
"It helps his attitude and the confidence in the team in that guy when they see him do some good things."
What also complicates matters is Adams' contract. He's signed through 2013 and -- in addition to his 2010 base salary of $5 million -- is scheduled to get a $2.5 million roster bonus in the offseason. If there isn't a new CBA, next year will be an uncapped year. Cowboys officials have said they will not use it to purge salaries, especially high-priced veterans such as Adams.
But if Free shows he can become the starter, then Adams might get released.