Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Schemes and themes.
Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin showed some improvement in '09, but the club will continue looking for his replacement. The Cowboys were very pleased with Gerald Sensabaugh's performance last season and would like to find another safety who has similar cover skills. The Cowboys are taking a long look at South Florida safety Nate Allen, who has the ball skills of a cornerback. USC's Taylor Mays might make Cowboys fans remember Roy Williams at safety -- and that's not a good thing. On offense, the Cowboys have to keep trying to draft and develop linemen. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seems to prefer enormous linemen who can engulf defenders. Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell turned heads at the combine with his 4.8 speed and 32-inch vertical, but the Cowboys rarely call plays for left tackles to leap into the air. It's more likely the Cowboys would go after a big right tackle such as Iowa's Kyle Calloway later in the draft. NFL scouts and coaches swarm to Iowa because head coach Kirk Ferentz keeps delivering such technically sound players. A player such as Calloway could be developed as Marc Colombo's eventual replacement.
I asked general manager Jerry Reese to describe a Perry Fewell defense. He simply indicated that the Giants will be much more aggressive under Fewell and that you'll see a lot of creative alignments with an emphasis on getting to the quarterback. Reese also said he wouldn't enter the season on a wing and a prayer that Kenny Phillips will be fully healed. That's of course what the Giants are hoping for, but that won't keep them from potentially selecting Texas safety Earl Thomas at No. 15 overall. Thomas needs to get stronger, but he's excellent in coverage. I think he'd be a great fit for the Giants. There's also a chance the Giants could try to land inside linebacker Rolando McClain out of Alabama. Will he slip to No. 15? I have a hard time believing that. But I do think the Giants love his intelligence and playmaking ability. He'll start in the league for the next 10 years or so.
The theme of the offseason will be closing the gap with the Cowboys. So you need a safety who can cover Jason Witten and a linebacker who can help account for Felix Jones. A cornerback who can cover Miles Austin would also be nice. I think the Eagles would be better off finding a safety via trade or free agency. We've seen how the defense works with a rookie safety. And even if you land Mays or Allen, there's no guarantee it will be a huge upgrade. A veteran safety who can make plays would be perfect. Darren Sharper anyone? I think new general manager Howie Roseman is also on the hunt for another pressure player to go along with Trent Cole. After doing some research during the combine, I think Roseman's much more adept on the football side than I'd realized. Keep your eye on Michigan's Brandon Graham. He's a little undersized but the guy has 29 sacks over the past three seasons in the Big 10.
Even though Mike Shanahan wouldn't confirm the Skins are transitioning to a 3-4, you know it's coming. That's what new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett feels the most comfortable doing. Everyone will talk about quarterback and offensive tackle this offseason, but the Redskins need to be on the lookout for 3-4 defensive tackles. As we saw with the Cowboys, transitioning to a 3-4 isn't always smooth. There's no guarantee that linebacker London Fletcher can hold up in a 3-4 because he'll have to take on enormous guards and centers on a regular basis. You'll see a big transformation with this team over the next couple years. If Sam Bradford's already gone, look for the Redskins to zero in on left tackles Russell Okung and Bryan Bulaga. Either one of those players could end up anchoring the offensive line for nine or 10 years. Tremendous college players who both have a high ceiling. The Skins have taken a long look at Campbell out of Maryland, so they'll be looking to see if he slips into the second round.