IRVING, Texas -- Bill Parcells has spent the entire offseason getting
ready for this weekend.
That's how important this draft is to the Dallas Cowboys and, perhaps, the
final chapter in his coaching career.
The Cowboys own the 11th and 20th picks and are desperately seeking what
Parcells likes to call ``catalytic'' players, the kind of game-breakers
opposing coordinators spend all week trying to stifle yet still end up making
While that includes receivers, expect Parcells to pluck someone who can
pressure quarterbacks as a defensive end, linebacker or, preferably, both.
Parcells has spent much of his time since ending a 6-10 season trying to
decide whether to change from a 4-3 to the 3-4 defense. A DE-LB hybrid who
could be effective in either formation would give him flexibility to make a
wholesale change or just mix things up now and then.
``To me, you've got to find guys who fit both schemes,'' said Jeff Ireland,
Dallas' new scouting director. ``The more things you can do the more
opportunities you have to make plays.''
Parcells began studying the lack of plays his team made right after a
season-ending loss to the New York Giants on Jan. 2. He attended Senior Bowl
week in Mobile, Ala., and went to the scouting combine in Indianapolis. He
didn't go to either last year or the previous one _ when just taking over in
Dallas consumed much of his time.
``I'm very impressed with the amount of his focus and the amount of resolve
that I see,'' team owner Jerry Jones said. ``It's more than what I saw last
Studying hard has paid off for Parcells before, especially for these types
of players. He took Willie McGinest fourth overall for the Patriots in 1994 and
John Abraham at No. 14 for the Jets in 2000. He'd love to come away with anyone
that productive again.
So, who might it be this time?
Shawne Merriman of Maryland seems like a perfect fit, as does speedy
Demarcus Ware of Troy. A possible tiebreaker for Merriman is that he excelled
against better competition in college, something Parcells values in the early
Marcus Spears of LSU is another name to watch, although he's a different
kind of hybrid. He'd be a down lineman in either system and might be best
suited to be a block-eating end in the 3-4. Dallas already has added one
widebody to the front in free agent Jason Ferguson, but another Parcells
principle is that you can't have enough big guys.
Oklahoma's Dan Cody and Wisconsin's Erasmus James also are possible targets,
especially if Dallas moves down or tries moving up with its second pick. It's
worth noting that the Cowboys have used their own No. 1 pick only once in the
last five drafts.
Another reminder is that Jones and Parcells went into last year's draft
looking for a running back. When they had their pick of them all, they instead
moved into the second round and got Julius Jones, whom they ranked almost on
par with the players everyone else had rated as first-rounders. Jones exceeded
expectations on the field and that deal is how Dallas got this year's extra
The Cowboys also have the 10th pick in the second round, but lack a
third-rounder because of the trade to get quarterback Drew Henson. Jones would
like to replace that pick.
One possible trading partner is New Orleans. The teams have discussed Dallas
acquiring defensive end Darren Howard, but talks stalled. If they heat up, the
Saints probably would demand a second-round pick. Getting Howard, however,
could adjust what the Cowboys look for in the draft _ such as a young receiver
to help veterans Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn, both coming off injuries.
Between Mike Williams of Southern Cal, Mark Clayton of Oklahoma and Troy
Williamson of South Carolina, at least one is likely to be available at No. 11
and maybe even at 20.
If Williams is there, it could be a test of how truthful Jones is. Or maybe
he was just trying to downplay Dallas' interest in Williams and Maurice Clarett
when asked about them last week.
``I think you've got to dock them and handicap the decision because they
haven't been on the field in a year,'' Jones said.