News: CLARENCE E. HILL JR.-->Cowboys may seek to shore up O-line

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  1. adbutcher

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    The Victoria Advocate -
    Cowboys may seek to shore up O-line
    c.2004 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
    Saturday, April 24th, 2004

    IRVING - Back in 1966, John Niland didn't know he was on the verge of becoming the charter member of one of the most exclusive clubs in Dallas Cowboys' history.
    Heck, he was just giddy his name was called. Being selected with the team's first-round pick, the fifth overall in the NFL Draft, was beyond imagination.

    "I was very blessed, I was fortunate," said Niland, a former Iowa guard who played nine seasons with the Cowboys.

    "They definitely saw more in me than I thought of myself. My team didn't do well in college. I didn't think I would go in the first round. I guess I was in the right place at the right time."

    In the course of the Cowboys' history, only two players found themselves in a similar circumstance - center Robert Shaw in 1979 and tackle Howard Richards in 1981.

    That's it. That's the list of offensive linemen selected in the first round by the Cowboys in 43 drafts.

    "I guess I am surprised," Niland said. "But I don't think teams place an importance on linemen as they do on skill positions. I don't know if the Cowboys were looking for linemen when they drafted me, but they happened to choose me."

    Gil Brandt, who directed the Cowboys' drafts from 1960-1989 and now serves as a draft expert for, said Niland's selection in 1966 was not happenstance.

    "We had a bad line and he was the best lineman available," Brandt said. "We also thought we could sign him."

    "Bad" is also the operative word Cowboys insiders use when describing the state of the 2004 offensive line, which is in desperate need of an infusion of talent at right tackle and possibly left guard, as the team fields trade offers for Larry Allen.

    But it doesn't appear the Cowboys will be fortunate enough to make a Nilandesque selection in the first round of this year's draft, which begins today.

    Owner Jerry Jones said the draft is not deep in quality offensive line prospects. The top two - Iowa tackle Robert Gallery and Arkansas tackle Shawn Andrews - will likely be gone when the Cowboys pick at No. 22.

    The team doesn't view Miami guard/tackle Vernon Carey, the third-best prospect, worthy of a such a high selection, though he could be an option in a trade-down situation.

    And then there is the Cowboys' focus on a running back, which is seemingly at the top of their wish list.

    It's no secret coach Bill Parcells wants to draft a running back after last year's experiment with Troy Hambrick failed. The Cowboys would like to improve their 3.9-yards-per-carry average and take some pressure off quarterback Quincy Carter.

    Steven Jackson, Kevin Jones and possibly Chris Perry are possible first-round targets.

    At present, there is only one secure spot on the offensive line - that of left tackle Flozell Adams, who made the Pro Bowl in 2003. Questions abound at every other position, headlined by right tackle and left guard, where the Cowboys could be looking for two new starters.

    Though Matt Lehr and Andre Gurode return at center and right guard, they remain works in progress because of their mediocre play. Al Johnson, who was drafted last season to be the center of the future before suffering a knee injury in training camp, will be given every opportunity to supplant Lehr. Gurode led the team last season in pre-snap penalties.

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