By Chad Peters / DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer
IRVING, Texas -Chris Canty couldn't bear watching any longer.
After sitting through the first day of April's draft without hearing his name called, Canty simply turned the television off once the second day finally rolled around.
Frustration had set in, and justifiably so.
A highly-touted prospect entering his senior season, the defensive end suffered much more than just a detached retina in a barroom brawl last January when he was hit in the face by a beer bottle. The reputation he worked so hard developing in his four years at Virginia had seemingly taken a hit as well, scaring a number of teams away as concerns lingered about potential character problems stemming from the fight he reportedly had no part in.
And he is now out to clear his name.
"It's a little frustrating," said Canty, the defensive end selected by the Cowboys late in fourth round after a draft-day trade with Philadelphia. "I don't think there's any way I can handle it with words. I think that my actions in the past and my actions in the future will speak to my character."
Canty, who missed all of the Cowboys' mini-camp workouts this off-season, has almost fully recovered from the knee injury that forced him to miss all but four games his senior year - an injury that all but knocked him out of the first round of the draft. Canty has returned to vigorous workouts after a second surgery to repair the detached retina caused him to pause his knee rehab.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said while the knee is fully rehabbed, and really no longer an issue, the club is simply waiting for Canty to receive clearance from the eye doctors to resume practicing. Chances are, Canty will miss at least the first week of training camp, but is targeting an Aug. 8 return. Jones also said the eye doctors are very pleased with the progress of Canty's eye, and at this point expecting a full recovery.
The only unknown is how the repaired retina holds up to contact. But once he is cleared to play football and assuming it does, Canty has a chance to contribute immediately with the Cowboys.
Of course, he also can't contribute until he is signed. As of Tuesday night, Canty is one of the Cowboys' five draft picks yet to agree to or sign a contract. Because of his tremendous upside, along with first-round projections before suffering the injuries, Canty's agent Tom Condon likely will be asking to be compensated differently than a normal fourth-round pick.
However, Canty is what he is - a late fourth-round pick - and the Cowboys aren't expected to make any major concessions. They also might want to sign Canty to a longer deal, four years instead of three, since there still is a chance the recent surgeries will hamper his first-year progress.
However, the Cowboys are fully aware that if healthy, Canty might be the perfect long-term complement at defensive end to Greg Ellis and fellow rookie Marcus Spears. At 6-foot-7, 279-pounds, Canty has the size required at the position to engage offensive linemen and control the line of scrimmage, particularly when the Cowboys line up in the 3-4. Canty's long arms allow him to create separation, and he has enough pass-rushing moves and quickness to create matchup problems inside on the 3-4.
So while Canty may not be in the starting mix initially with ends Greg Ellis and Spears, he should get plenty of playing time as a rotation player if he progresses as expected throughout training camp. The Cowboys have not had a stout rotation along the line in years, but they are trying to change that this season. Head coach Bill Parcells has already indicated his desire to reduce the number of snaps for Ellis and defensive tackle La'Roi Glover play this season, and Canty may help make that a reality for Ellis.
While Canty's defensive end competition is more battletested in the NFL, neither Kenyon Coleman nor Eric Ogbogu has entrenched himself as a mainstay along the line. Coleman, entering his third season with the Cowboys after they acquired the four-year veteran from Oakland through trade in 2003, recorded only one sack in 12 games last season. Ogbogu has been more involved and has been successful generating pressure at times, recording a combined eight sacks in the last two seasons. But Ogbogu, at 6-foot-4, 269 pounds, might have to make this club as a left outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, where he worked during the team's only mini-camp for veterans.
And Canty's experience in the 3-4 might help ease him back onto the field after suffering that season-ending knee injury last September at Virginia. Having played in the scheme under Virginia head coach Al Groh - a former understudy of Parcells when the two were with the Giants and the Jets - Canty has the edge over a number of his teammates in at least that regard.
"I think that my familiarity with the system, coupled with some information Coach Parcells might have gotten from Coach Groh, might have made it a very smart pick for the Cowboys, I believe, if I was looking at it from their perspective," said Canty, who was widely considered a first-day prospect prior to suffering the eye injury in the barroom incident. "We'll have to see how this whole thing works out. I have the opportunity. It's whether or not I'll take advantage of that opportunity."
It's an opportunity Canty took advantage of for the most part at Virginia, though his senior year was prematurely cut short after tearing the ACL in his left knee four weeks into the season. Canty was still able to register 30 tackles and one sack in his four starts prior to the injury, but it was nothing compared to his junior campaign when he recorded an astounding 104 tackles (12 for loss) and four sacks - earning him second-team All-ACC honors.
While Canty is currently focused on getting healthy and making the team, his experience in the 3-4 and his extroverted personality on the field could potentially make him a soundboard for other players in the future. But for now, as a rookie, Canty is the one that will be asking the questions.
And if Canty is willing to capitalize on the chance, he should benefit this season from sitting next to La'Roi Glover in the locker room at Valley Ranch. Glover has already shown a penchant for taking younger players under his wing this off-season, particularly Spears.
"I think in the future it will be beneficial," said Canty, whose outgoing nature seems to have taken a slight hit due to his inability to participate on the field with his teammates the last few months. "It's a good group of guys. I really haven't had much interaction because I'm focused on getting my body healthy. Right now is not a time to be social as much as getting back to football and getting back to a point where I can possibly make this team and contribute."
Until then, Canty seems to have no problem accepting his current role with the Cowboys
"You are what you are," he said. "I'm a fourth-round draft pick fighting to make this team."
And fighting to regain his reputation, too.