Cowboys' draft will be litmus test for Jones-Garrett tandem

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are about to receive their reward for a lousy 2010 season: the ninth overall pick in next week's NFL draft.

How they use it could be a window into the world of Jerry Jones and his new coach, Jason Garrett.

Garrett's background is all offense, and this team's biggest weakness on offense is clearly the line. The Cowboys need better, younger blockers to protect Tony Romo and open holes for the running backs, which is why most mock drafts have Dallas taking the guy widely deemed the top lineman available, USC tackle Tyron Smith.

But it might not be that simple.

Smith is more of a project than an NFL-ready talent. That's why he's expected to still be around at No. 9.

So maybe the Cowboys would be better off taking a defensive player. They certainly have plenty of needs -- a cornerback, or one of the many defensive linemen that are considered the strength of this year's crop.

There's also strategy to consider. With so many holes to fill, perhaps Dallas could help itself most by trading down and adding a pick or two. Or it could go the other direction and trade up for a player it believes could be a difference-maker, like LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson if he slips to, say, fifth or sixth, close enough that a trade wouldn't cost the Cowboys more than a third- or fourth-round pick.

What do you think, Coach Garrett?

"If you go across our roster, you could say, 'Hey, they could get better here, they could get better here, they could get better here,' " Garrett said during the NFL owners' meetings earlier this offseason. "What we need to do is try to figure out who allows us to do that, and there are a lot of different areas we can do that."

Garrett's real thoughts will be shared only with Jones. But the answers will come once the Cowboys are on the clock Thursday night.

By then, the owner and coach likely will have gone over every possible scenario so they'll be ready for whatever comes their way. Remember, Garrett is all about preparation -- stacking good days together -- and with the NFL lockout preventing much else from getting done, the draft likely has soaked up all of his attention.

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Garrett has been part of the Dallas draft process before, but only as a coordinator and assistant head coach. In those roles, he made suggestions. While Jones still will be the one making decisions, Garrett's voice will be louder than ever.

The wrinkle this year is that it could be a test of sorts. The better Garrett's picks turn out, the more Jones will value his picks in the future. The flip side could prove to be true, too.

Jones already trusts Garrett's opinion. The simplest proof is that he got the job without Jones really considering anyone else. But it goes deeper, to Jones' respect for Garrett's Ivy League education to the years that Jones spent receiving draft advice from Garrett's dad, Jim, a longtime scout.

"The biggest thing you want to do is evaluate the players and decide what kind of player you want on your football team," Garrett said. "My role changes simply in the fact that, in past, I was involved with the offensive guys; now I'm involved with the whole football team."

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Jones struggled with the fact the Cowboys went 6-10 last season with a roster considered loaded with talent.

"One doesn't necessarily equate with the other," Jones said.

Since the draft is all about acquiring talent, the respect for Dallas' roster indicates he has been doing a good job lately. And with the ninth pick in each round, perhaps the draft will be a great chance for the Cowboys to make something good out of the lost 2010 season.

"There is nothing as far as looking ahead regarding what we can do that overshadows the disappointment that we had last year," Jones said. "It's (an attitude of) 'Roll your sleeves up, let's get in here and let's get this thing right.' "

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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