When It Comes to Cowboys Nose Tackles, Check the Transmission

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The annual search for a nose tackle to pair with Jay Ratliff continues. The question, as always, concerns the type of nose the Cowboys want. Conventional wisdom holds that the 3-4 needs a massive 325-335 lb. plugger. Dallas would not mind one, certainly, but that conventional wisdom only holds if the nose tackle candidate can run.

Most 3-4s do not two-gap all the time. In fast, most NFL 3-4s two gap only a small percentage of the time, if at all. Rob Ryan’s brother Rex claimed in a coaches clinic presentation a few years ago that his Ravens’ D two-gapped at most 15% of the time. The rest of the time the nose was slanted towards the center or lined up as a 1 or 3 technique, responsible for penetrating a single gap and chasing the ball if it went away from him.

Big guys who can also run are rare, and the Cowboys have had trouble finding them. Look at the nose tackles Dallas has started since Bill Parcells made the 3-4 the team’s standard front in 2005:

Jason Ferguson, 6’3″, 310 lbs.
Jay Ratliff, 6’4″, 303 lbs.
Tank Johnson, 6’3″, 315 lbs.
Josh Brent, 6’2”, 315 lbs.
Average — 6’3″, 311 lbs.

Not one nose over 315 lbs. Technique, quickness and consistency matter more than bulk. Johnson’s inconsistent motor — and his sideline meltdown in Philly — meant a quick ticket out of town. Look at the DTs on Dallas’ 2010 draft board and you see more players fitting the general template. (Draft board positions are shaded blue, actual draft positions are in yellow.)

Ndamukong Suh, 1-3, 6’4″, 307 lbs. 1-2
Tyson Alualu, 1-22, 6’3″, 304 lbs., 1-10
Dan Williams, 2-34, 6’2″, 327 lbs. 1-26
Bryan Price 2-37, 6’1″, 303 lbs. 3-35
D’Anthony Smith 3-53, 6’2″, 304 lbs. 3-74
Corey Peters 3-57, 6’3″, 300 lbs. 3-83
Torrel Troup 4-80, 6’3″, 314 lbs. 2-41
Linval Joseph 4-84, 6’4″, 328 lbs. 2-46
Al Woods, 4-97, 6’4″, 309 lbs. 4-123
Art Jones 5-117, 6’3″, 301 lbs., 5-157
Average size and weight — 6’3″, 310 lbs.

Notable omission — Terrence Cody 2-57

A player’s ability to chase in a one-gap scheme mattered and will continue to matter. Look at Terence Cody, the biggest name at the nose tackle position, pun intended. He’s your stereotypical nose tackle, a 354 lb. mass of a man who college linemen could not move. How many mocks did you see last spring that sent Cody to Dallas?

Cody had a bad body (you do the google search if you must, but have lots of brain bleach handy) and analysts who watched extensive tape of Cody commented on how few downs he actually played for Alabama. Questions about his stamina arose. The Cowboys decided, for whatever reasons, that Cody did not fit their scheme, and left him off their board.

Only two of the ten NT prospects on Dallas’ ’10 draft board topped 315 lbs. One, Dan Williams, was a frequent Cowboys mock partner in the weeks leading to the draft. He rated much lower than Dez Bryant, Dallas’ eventual pick. The other, Linval Joseph, offers a lesson in the position.

Potential nose tackles rise — a lot. Look at the board ratings and the actual draft positions of these players. Alualu was the first big wow pick of the day when Jacksonville took him 10th overall. Troup and Joseph, two players the Cowboys assigned 4th round grades, were gone by the mid 2nd.

If the Cowboys really want a big, quick nose, they should try their best to forecast where they think they’ll go, and if they want to push one a bit? The class is considered thin, with Marcel Dareus, Phil Taylor and Kenrick Ellis fitting the big, quick and versatile profile. Southern Mississippi’s squatty Anthony Gray is a late-round option.

Everybody loves the big NFL touring cars, with large, powerful engines. If the D-line roadsters have shoddy transmissions, and can’t get that big chassis up to speed quickly, they won’t interest the Cowboys.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com