How "Big Cat" Leon Lett's Coaching Is Perfect For 1st-Rounder Taco Charlton

FRISCO, Texas – Taco Charlton doesn't have many memories of watching Leon Lett play for in the '90s. He was born 10 months after Lett and the Cowboys won a second straight Super Bowl in 1994.

Charlton's father Norm, a longtime Cowboys fan, remembers "Big Cat" well.

"My dad actually told me about him because obviously he watched him more than I did when I was a kid," Taco said. "He was a great player. Long leverage kind of like me, big tall guy."

Lett is now in his seventh year as Cowboys assistant – and he seems like a perfect resource for the team's first-round pick.

Lett played 10 seasons in Dallas and was a key contributor on all three Super Bowl teams in the '90s. As a slender 6-foot-6 defensive linemen, he was a unique talent who pressured quarterbacks from tackle or end.

Charlton has measurables similar to Lett's in his playing days: 6-foot-6, 271 pounds, and athletic enough to bend around the edge against offensive tackles.

"They'll be like basketball players out there, the movement," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "(Lett) is becoming a heck of a teacher. I just really enjoy it. I think he's helping him a lot."

Charlton got most of his offseason practice reps at right and left end, though the Cowboys believe he's versatile enough to move inside at defensive tackle in certain situations. He's getting quite an education in practice lining up against All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.

Lett, the team's defensive tackles coach, knows the importance of using arm length and leverage as a taller rusher.

"For me it was the most important thing because I wasn't a strong guy," he said. "But I knew if I could use my long arms to keep them away from me, I could negate that power until I got stronger. Once I got stronger, my length and my power kind of came together and it was a great mix for myself.

"He's got good length and he's a good athlete, a really good athlete for his size. There's a lot to work with. The sky's the limit. He wants to learn, he's hungry and I think he's got a lot of room to grow."

Rushing from the tackle spot is different than the edge. Things develop faster and there's less room to work with. Lett says Charlton has a little more space to operate outside as a pass rush, but the key is being "creative": speed, power, spin moves, counter moves.

"Charles Haley used to say this: 'Your imagination is your playground,'" Lett said. "If you think about it, you can do some things, but you've only got 2.5 seconds, so you can't be too crazy with it. But there are some things you can do to create momentum and counter momentum as a pass rusher that you can't do (against) the run.

"Coach Marinelli often tells the guys, speed can be bad for you if you think you can just run around the edge. You won't be able to outrun most of the tackles in the league. You've got to turn that speed into power and mix it up."

In training camp next month, Charlton will continue competing with several linemen for a starting spot. He believes he's made "a lot of progress" since joining the Cowboys out of Michigan, where he only started one season in a 4-3 scheme.

More work with Lett can only help.

"He knows how to use long leverage, knows how to use his length so he can teach me firsthand what I can do to help improve my game," Charlton said. "It definitely helps when you're going out there and practicing with him and drills afterwards and everything like that. It definitely helps."

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