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Saturday, April 26, 1997

When Aikman speaks, Lacewell listens

An AP Sports Analysis

By DENNE H. FREEMAN AP Sports Writer

IRVING, Texas (AP) - Larry Lacewell walked to the refrigerator to get a diet Pepsi (what else at Valley Ranch?), came over and allowed himself to be interviewed.

It was draft day after the first round and owner Jerry Jones' gag order had been lifted. Jones and his scouting department had put up more smoke screens than a World War II ship convoy on the Atlantic.

Jones even planted a story the team would be, alas, trading out of the first round like it did the last two years to save money.

However, agent Leigh (Show Me The Money) Steinberg, broke the code of silence (you can't gag agents) to predict the Cowboys would move up in the draft for a tight end, likely Tony Gonzalez of California, one of his clients. Steinberg has good sources. Another client is Troy Aikman, who went on a caravan to pass to the likes of Gonzalez and David LaFleur of Louisiana State.

How could the Cowboys move up if they had salary cap problems?

The Cowboys salary cap is a deeper mystery than the Hale-Bopp comet. Now you see the money and now you don't. It's hard to follow and Jerry wants to keep it that way.

But back to Lacewell, the Dallas Cowboys scouting director who had iffy drafts since Jimmy Johnson left. The only impact player of any note was offensive lineman Larry Allen in 1994. You remember that year, it was the one where they traded up to get defensive end Shante Carter, who has been your basic bust.

In Lacewell's defense, he had to wait until the second round the last two years before his suggestions were considered. So far, Dallas has only had average results for the average players selected.

"I'm really excited," Lacewell said about the selection of LaFleur, an imposing physical specimen who seems taller than his listed 6-foot-7 and bigger than his posted 280 pounds. "This kid has the entire package. I think our tight end situation is going to be in good hands for years to come."

Hands? Do you say hands?

Without Jay Novacek last year, Aikman had balls skipping off fry pans disguised as hands. Eric Bjornson never got into the flow after he sprained both ankles and couldn't have caught a ball dipped in honey.

LaFleur has hands. Aikman threw balls high, low, and behind LaFleur and he caught them all. You have to see the NFL combine film where balls were coming at LaFleur from all angles. He caught them all.

Block? Do you say block?

He made a lot of impressive blocks for the Bengal Tigers last year to spring running back Kevin Faulk.

The Cowboys wanted LaFleur so bad that they traded up to get him. Some critics say the Cowboys might have overvalued LaFleur and didn't need to give up the two draft picks it cost.

"If you see somebody you want why not go after him," Lacewell said. "We had no guarantees he would be around. "

The Cowboys couldn't run a two tight end offense last year because Kendall Watkins suffered a season-ending injury in training camp. There was no Novacek (who could retire soon and free up $1 million cap money) and a crippled Bjornson.

"Now, we can run some two tight end offense," Lacewell said. "This is going to make Troy a happy camper. What a target LaFleur is going to be on third down."

Aikman told the Cowboys that he liked LaFleur better than Gonzalez and that LaFleur was the one receiver he wanted them to get.

When Aikman speaks, Lacewell listens.

Training camp will tell, but being aggressive in the first round for the first time in three years could pay big dividends for the Cowboys this time.

All content copyright 1997, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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