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Right Choices Or Else Columnist 
Jan. 27, 2004, 6:14 p.m. (CST)   

catalytic linebackers, preferably a bigger guy inside than Dat Nguyen or Dexter Coakley and one of those playmaking outside guys who absolutely hound quarterbacks. 

Do this, and your draft philosophy, as far as what types of defensive players you select, will change. And it would seem then at least two of those top three picks must be spent on defensive players, if not all three. 

That then brings us to the draft. With two first-round picks and the 10th pick in the second round, the Cowboys must have three keepers - three starters for at least the next four to five years, if not more. 

Hit here, and this would be huge. You watch, the turnaround would be dramatic. Because if you think about it, a huge part of the reason why the Cowboys are what they are right now comes from making only two selections in the first rounds of the past five drafts, and just six in the past 12 for various reasons. 

Teams are a lot smarter when they have first-round picks, and especially if those first-rounders are in the top dozen of the draft. And if you analyze this, the Cowboys have scored with those picks going back to 1988 - Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Greg Ellis, Roy Williams and Terence Newman. And they haven't done too badly in the teens with the likes of Emmitt Smith and Kevin Smith. 

But when they have drafted no higher than 20th, they have ended up with the likes of Robert Jones, Shante Carver, David LaFleur and Ebenezer Ekuban. Heck, since drafting Billy Joe DuPree 20th in 1973, the best selection taken no higher than 20th has to be - hands down - Jim Jeffcoat with the 23rd pick in the 1983 draft. 

Hmmm, and that had nothing to do with Jerry Jones, Larry Lacewell, Bill Parcells, Barry Switzer or whoever else you want to blame for the Cowboys' draft fortunes over the past decade. And to think they had "football guys" back then, right? 

So circle 2005. This off-season will determine the direction of this franchise for the remainder of the decade. Make all the right decisions, especially on these four crucial matters, and the Cowboys are on their way. Foul up more than one, and the penalty will be in years, which is severe. 

Because the longer they remain in this ditch, with just two winning seasons in the past eight, the closer they come to being just another team - the harshest penalty of all in the National Football League.   


!   That the Cowboys have hired Paul Pasqualoni, 14 years the Syracuse head coach (1991-2004), as an assistant and haven't assigned him a specific position to coach seems further proof Bill Parcells is not done reshaping his coaching staff. Pasqualoni, with a defensive background, probably could be plugged in most anywhere if another coach should leave since he's been a college head coach for 19 years. And his presence should help the Cowboys evaluate players in the upcoming drafts since he would have seen a bunch of them play. 
!   Former Cowboys offensive line coach George Warhop appears first in line to take over the offensive line in San Francisco for recently named head coach Mike Nolan . . . . And a former Cowboys defensive line coach, Andre Patterson, who spent the past two seasons in Cleveland, apparently will be hired for defensive line duty in Denver. 
!   LSU defensive end Marcus Spears apparently was flattered, and somewhat intimidated, when Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells singled him out for a little one-on-one conversation this week at the Senior Bowl. And how about this: Monte Kiffin, the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay staff handling the South squad, had Spears working some at linebacker. 
!   When all was said and done, Witten's team-leading 87 catches ranked second among all NFL tight ends, trailing only Tony Gonzalez (102). Witten's 980 receiving

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