The Cards used Gabe Watson (98) and Bryan Robinson (97) at nose tackle last season.
They are, in the words of Gabe Watson, the "sacrificial guys. The garbage men."
Nose tackles aren't going to build many stats, not with their main job taking up space and holding their ground. In a lot of cases, they're only needed for a couple of downs before giving way to a specialized third-down personnel grouping.
For many coaches and general managers, though, "garbage" isn't the word used for the spot. It's more like "linchpin," especially when it comes to a 3-4 alignment.
"You generally need a dominant individual there," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "A guy has to be active, got to be able to stay on his feet and his technique on releasing off of blocks has got to be outstanding. If not, you are really going to struggle."
Cardinals general manager Rod Graves acknowledges the Cardinals want to address the position in the draft. Watson is really the lone man on the roster who fits the slot right now. Veteran Bryan Robinson, the starter the past two seasons, could still return but has not re-signed yet. Alan Branch, picked in the second round in 2007 specifically to be the nose tackle of the future, hasn't worked out that way and has morphed into more of an end than tackle.
Finding a nose tackle sounds simple. Except it isn't.
"When you find a good nose tackle," Graves said, "he's part of a rare breed."
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt compared it to seven-footers that play basketball. There are plenty of those guys out there – but finding those with athleticism and ability to play at a high level is a different story. The same goes for a 350-pounder, who may have been put at nose tackle less because of a love for the game but because some coach saw a big kid and stuck in the middle.
Watson is hoping to play at 320 pounds this season and also hopes the knee troubles that have plagued him the last two seasons are behind him. He'd like to be the Cards' answer at the nose, as a player who doesn't just sit and take up blocks but is agile enough to make some plays.
If a player can do that, "that's why the position can be so precious," Watson said.
The draft doesn't seem to be top-heavy with nose tackle candidates. Tennessee's Dan Williams can play both in a 3-4 and 4-3, and seems to be the one guy who – in a perfect Cardinals' world – might slip to the back of the first round, but that seems unlikely.
A player like Alabama's Terrence Cody is considered by many best-suited for the second or even the third round because of ongoing weight issues. Others, like East Carolina's Linval Joseph or North Carolina's Cam Thomas, can be had after the first round as well.
The number of NFL teams switching to a 3-4 alignment – and needing that quality nose tackle – isn't helping the supply-and-demand issue either.
"If that position is weak, teams easily run up the middle and those guys on the outside won't have the sacks," Watson said. "You'll see A-Dub (Adrian Wilson) with 1,000 tackles. I believe if you are doing your job well (as a nose tackle), teams won't try to run up your gap, so your stats won't be that high. The guys around you, their stats go up, and that's the biggest indicator to see how a guy is playing."
Teams place great value on such a sacrifice.
"You're always looking for that guy," Whisenhunt said.
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