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Friday, August 6, 1999
Draft improves Larry Lacewell's image
By Tim Cowlishaw
The Dallas Morning News
WICHITA FALLS, Texas - Shante Carver.
It is a name from the Cowboys' past. He is gone but the name
still hovers out there. It is the starting point for any discussion
on the merits of Larry Lacewell.
Four week after Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson agreed to dissolve
their alliance in 1994, Lacewell found himself in the hot seat
on draft day. He had been with the club for two years, but now
he was the one making the calls.
Technically, Jones signs off on each pick but the recommendations
come from Lacewell. And the first name called out from the Cowboys'
war room back in 1994 was Carver's, who was out of football by
the end of the 1997 season.
"I'm not going to go on and on about Shante," said
Lacewell, who tends to go on and on about everything. "We
wanted an end, and we were too quick to pull the trigger. It was
like we couldn't live without a defensive end.
"I think over the last few years we've learned to be patient."
And guess what? Over the last two years, there are indications
that Lacewell actually knows what he's doing on draft day. Indications,
I said, not hard evidence.
Last year's top two picks, Greg Ellis and Flozell Adams, are
in this year's starting lineup. The later rounds on the second
day brought special teams stars Izell Reese and Darren Hambrick.
The Cowboys seem to like everything about this year's top two
picks - again a defensive end and an offensive lineman - in Ebenezer
Ekuban and Solomon Page. What's not to like? No one has played
a game yet.
But Lacewell insists the Cowboys hit a home run on the second
"You're fortunate if you can get guys you still want on
the second day," he said. "We had five guys we wanted,
and we got two of them - Wane McGarity and Peppi Zellner. Maybe
people think we took Zellner too high, but I think we'll be proven
to be right."
Zellner is a guy that everyone here talks about. A 6-5, 251-pound
defensive end from Fort Valley State, he was a virtual unknown
"You watch the tapes from that school, and it's like watching
a Charlie Chaplin film," said Lacewell.
But Zellner, just like Ekuban, brings speed to a defensive
front badly in need of some. Ekuban had the fastest 40-yard dash
time among defensive linemen at the scouting combine and Zellner
was No. 2. Zellner also won the 20-yard dash and the broad jump.
"That doesn't mean he's a football player. We're not running
track meets here," Lacewell said. "And when you watched
the film, sometimes it bothered you. You wondered if you've got
a football player or just a fast guy."
In camp, Zellner is behaving a lot like a football player.
He's already fought twice with Erik Williams despite the fact
he's about 70 pounds lighter.
If McGarity gets into the mix at receiver and if Dat Nguyen
makes plays on special teams, then, yes, this has a chance to
be the Cowboys' deepest and strongest draft since you-know-who
took his magic wand to Miami.
Lacewell acknowledges past mistakes and understands the critics
who long for the days when Jimmy was calling the shots.
"There's no life after Bear Bryant, there's no life after
Darrell Royal," Lacewell said. "I understand that because
I've been through that. People forget that there were some people
here helping Jimmy."
Although Lacewell has been evaluating football talent for 40
years, he says that doesn't mean he has stopped learning. "I
was guilty in the beginning of sometimes listening to just one
guy instead of weighing all the information," he said. "The
more opinions you can get on a player, the better off you are."
We won't know for two or three years if the 1999 draft class
was a good one. We know that other than Larry Allen, the 1994
and 1995 drafts gave the Cowboys little. 1996 is pretty much the
Randall Godfrey Show at this stage. And David LaFleur has to be
healthy and productive for 16 games before anyone would grade
the 1997 draft higher than a D.
But things do change in the NFL. People regarded as draft gurus
fall into bad habits and make mistakes. The names Gil Brandt and
Bobby Beathard come to mind.
With the last two drafts, Lacewell has a chance to revise the
image that injuries, bad luck and some risky picks produced in
After 40 years of coaching and scouting, Lacewell might even
have a chance to be regarded as one of those "football guys"
everyone wants at the top of an organization.
"I've always wondered how many years you've got to be
in the NFL until you become one of those so-called guys,"
For Lacewell to be a football guy, it might all come down to
whether or not a 24-year-old former basketball player named Peppi
Zellner can prove he's a football player.
(c) 1999, The Dallas Morning News.
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