IRVING, Texas – From the outset, this should have been a week filled with budding excitement for the Cowboys and the entire NFL.
Why, the offseason strength and conditioning programs were to commence Monday.
The NFL schedule was to be released Thursday.
And with all these mock drafts swirling at a high-pitched fever and trade rumors bursting out of the starting blocks, my gosh, anticipation of the NFL draft filled the air.
Then, reality got in the way of our fun and games, slapping us hard in the face -- me in particular, upon landing back in the States Monday evening after nearly two heavenly weeks in Italy.
First, the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday, with the bizarre story continuing to play out Friday before our very eyes on TV.
Then there was the death of Pat Summerall on Tuesday, his public memorial Saturday at Prestonwood Baptist Church.
Then we learned the chilling details of those allegedly responsible for the three Kaufman County murders in our parts: a guy and his wife grinding out a grudge in their own hands.
And West, Texas, turning what to most is no more than a direction for the setting sun into an international story. Even the new Pope, who I had the privilege of hearing speak to some 80,000 crammed into St. Peter's Square this past Sunday, issued a tweet of moral support for the devastated little town.
Talk about sticking a big ol' needle into the fun and games balloon, these sad, gruesome events putting our lives – the NFL draft – into perspective. I mean, offensive guard or defensive tackle or safety? Really? Really? While they are still pulling dead bodies of first responders from the rumble that is now West? [embedded_ad]
See, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this little Czech community about 60 miles south of Dallas. All those years driving to Austin for training camp or driving to San Antonio for training camp or driving to Austin for whatever, you had to pass through West, just off I-35. And you just had to stop for the very best baked kolaches you've ever had, and if you were on your way back home you had better stop for sure, and then refrain from eating 'em all before you got there.
The town is filled with the best 2,800 people you'll ever find. I went to its annual WestFest one Labor Day weekend, the evening incomparable, filled with kolaches and polkas. I stopped there last on the way back from a Missouri-Baylor basketball game in Waco last year with the guys for late lunch at the Nors Sausage & Burger House. The owner gave us more sausage than we ordered just because, and then each one of their koozies. I still have it, 128 North Main Street.
Just reading all the accounts of the fertilizer plant explosion that caused all the physical devastation in the town and the emotional wreckage to the community brings you to tears, especially if you've been there.
So, really, as the Cowboys head toward Thursday's NFL draft with the 18th pick in the first round in the wake of all these tragic events, go forward with a good measure of perspective and an inherent ability to separate the entertainment we try to provide you here from real life.
It seems almost trivial to discuss what the Cowboys might do come 9:45 or 10 p.m. this coming Thursday. No one really knows, and even the Cowboys don't know since there are 17 selecting ahead of them, and they can only project what might go down. Like last year, right. The Cowboys didn't go into that draft saying, OK, we are going to trade from the 14th pick all the way up to No. 6 for Morris Claiborne. They simply knew he was the only guy they would even think of trading up for that evening.
The Cowboys simply reacted to the cards being dealt in the first round. They will do the same come Thursday.
And this is somewhat of a strange draft, one void in the first round of quarterbacks you just have to have, void of no-doubt-about-it franchise running backs. Pass rushing defensive ends worthy of first-round picks are scarce. Only a couple of cornerbacks, really. And when it comes to safeties, well, just remember the Cowboys have only used one first-round draft choice on a safety ever, that being Roy Williams in 2002.
What seemingly is going to happen, especially with this dearth of skill players and rookie salaries scaled back in the new CBA, a plethora of offensive and defensive linemen are likely to be scooped up in a hurry, sort of exactly what the Cowboys need.
Everyone wants a guard for the Cowboys, another position they have used only one first-round pick on in their history. But really the top two should go well before 18. Tackles? The top four might all be gone by 18.
If it were me, I'd be looking for an offensive tackle who could bide his time at guard if need be if selecting an offensive lineman in the first or second rounds -- that is, if anyone asked.
But as I've been saying all along, just get me one of each in the first two rounds if possible – offensive lineman and defensive tackle, preferably one who can stay on the field next to Jay Ratliff for all three downs. And there are a couple of those projected to go in the range of 18.
You know how we like to say that Tyron Smith in 2011 was the first offensive tackle the Cowboys have selected with a first round pick since Howard Richards in 1981, and only second overall? Or what I just pointed out about safeties? And did you realize the Cowboys have only used only two first-round, non-supplemental picks on quarterbacks, those being Craig Morton in 1965 and Troy Aikman in 1989?
Well, having said that, the Cowboys have used only four first-round picks in their history on defensive tackles. And you remember the last? That's right, Russell Maryland back in 1991, 22 drafts ago, and with the very first pick in the draft. But that should come with an asterisk, since after realizing Rocket Ismail was going to ask for far too much money to better the offer he already had in hand from the CFL, Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson basically went to his former All-America defensive tackle at the University of Miami and said something like this:
You probably aren't going to be the first pick in the draft, maybe like somewhere in the top 10 or so, but we'll give you that distinction as long as you and your agent (Leigh Steinberg) don't ask us to pay you what the first pick in the draft should get.
The only other first-round defensive tackles selected by the Cowboys are Danny Noonan (1987) and the first guy they ever selected, Bob Lilly (1961). Now many will scream Randy White (1975), but remember, the Cowboys official draft listing has him as a defensive end and Tom Landry first tried White at linebacker before realizing he had a "Manster" on his hands at defensive tackle.
But when it comes to first-round defensive tackles, that's it.
Nothing wrong with finally taking another one, someone like Sylvester Williams of North Carolina or Sheldon Richardson of Missouri or maybe Kawann Short of Purdue, guys likely to be around in that teen-ish range. And as we've been saying on Talkin' Cowboys, don't turn your nose up on LSU's DT Bennie Logan in a later round.
You know, since returning to the States, I saw one two-round projection for the Cowboys, that gave them Williams in the first round and Kentucky guard Larry Warford in the second. From what I saw of those two during Senior Bowl week, go right ahead. Or if an OT slips down to them at 18, grab him and then go get the defensive tackle in the second.
Then start looking for another running back, a blocking tight end, that safety (if he projects better than Barry Church and/or Matt Johnson) and you know what, someone who can rush the quarterback from defensive end in the 4-3 to help out DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
But again, who knows. Too many variables when you're at 18. Who might slide. Who might go too high, pushing a better player down your way. What trades will be made. Who might want to come up to your spot. And out of necessity, you might need to trade down. Got to keep an open mind.
Sound good? OK, but just remember, it's only football, we'll see what happens. Keep an open mind.
And that's all fine and good for the draft, but of this, though, I'm darn certain:
For a real slice of life, don't ever drive past West without stopping.