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AFC Coach Notebook: Talking Former Cowboys, Read Option


PHOENIX – Despite the Cowboys' focus to keep their own players in town, they'd inevitably have to release some athletes and let a few free agents find new teams.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Chargers coach Mike McCoy discussed why they added Marcus Spears and John Phillips, respectively, at the AFC Coaches Breakfast during the NFL Owners Meetings.

Harbaugh clearly valued Spears' presence in the locker room and his versatility on the defensive line.  

"Character's big for us," Harbaugh said. "We just think it's important. If you look at our locker room, we feel like we've got a bunch of great guys in our locker room. The guys that cover us every day I think would agree with that."

Harbaugh said Spears fits into that category, as well as former Cowboys lineman Chris Canty, who also signed with the Ravens.

"They're very versatile," Harbaugh said. "They can play odd, even fronts. They can play any one of the defensive line positions. They're very good run players, especially against the stretch zone scheme, which we see a lot. So they fit us well. I like they're attitude. I think they're both great guys. We've been told they're great guys, and I was very impressed getting to know those guys and who they are and how hard they work."

McCoy's Chargers snagged Phillips quickly in free agency because he sees the former Cowboys tight end as a player who can "do it all." Phillips was only targeted 10 times last season, but McCoy attributes that to Jason Witten's presence on the field.

"We're trying to improve every position on the football team, and I think he's someone that can play on all downs," McCoy said. "He's obviously a good run blocker. He does a good job in the passing game."

No Option

The read option's become a prominent part of football for a few teams with speedy, athletic quarterbacks, as the Cowboys saw last season against the Redskins.

But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn't think that will last long.

"I think read option's the flavor of the month," he said. "A few years ago people were talking wildly about the wildcat. It's less of a discussion now. I think there are coaches in rooms preparing themselves to defend it. There's coaches in rooms also preparing themselves to run it. I think it's going to sort out on the grass."

Tomlin thinks teams won't want to put their quarterbacks in harm's way when they see their stars getting smashed around running the football. Robert Griffin III's knee injury is a testament to what can happen when putting a quarterback out in space or in compromising positions.

For that reason, Tomlin could see the read option decreasing in future years.  

"I always take a skeptical approach," he said. "We'll see. We'll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit, because when you run the read option, obviously they're runners. There's something associated with that."

Craft A Draft

The Ravens already lost a number of substantial contributors from their 2012 Super Bowl run, including Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams. Ed Reed could join that group if he finds the right deal in free agency.

While Harbaugh recognizes the importance of those players' roles on the team, he also believes the way to win consistently isn't through free agency.

"The draft is the critical thing," he said. "You have to do well in the draft. It's the most important aspect of building your team going forward. So we're working really hard at that."

The Ravens have 12 picks in this year's draft, which Harbaugh described as particularly deep in the middle rounds.  

"What I love about our group, we throw everything we've got into the draft," Harbaugh said. "Every ounce of energy. Every opinion that every scout can make. We have people watching tape. My assistant watches tape. My administrative assistant, he's a young guy, he's watching tape. We want to know what everybody thinks of players." [embedded_ad]

That same strategy seems to be the route the Cowboys will take as well, without much money to spend in free agency. 

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