IRVING, Texas - The goal heading into this past weekend's NFL Draft was simple for the Cowboys:
Get better on defense.
And to achieve that, they knew they had to address the team's inability to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
So down the road, when we all look back to analyze this 2005 draft, the determining factor will be if the Cowboys indeed found themselves a pass-rushing defensive end - or three.
That's right, three.
While the Cowboys did spend two first-round picks on defensive ends, landing Troy's Demarcus Ware with the 11th pick and then getting LSU's Marcus Spears to fall in their lap with the 20th pick, the Cowboys are crossing their fingers and toes over the defensive end who could end up becoming the steal of the draft.
Virginia's Chris Canty, a player the Cowboys once had rated a mid-first round pick, could possibly turn out to become the best player the Cowboys selected Saturday or Sunday if he can overcome a pair of serious injuries.
Obviously the Cowboys think he can, or they wouldn't have made the trade with Philadelphia to move up from the fifth round into the end of the fourth (132nd overall) just to snag Canty before he potentially went to New England - a team the Cowboys projected to be deep enough to take Canty and basically stash him away on injured reserve all year.
"I actually had a problem not drafting him with the eighth pick (in the fourth round)," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who instead selected Minnesota running back Marion Barber III with the 109th pick.
But while Canty is not 100 percent right now, the Cowboys think there is a good chance he will be ready to play by the start of training camp, although there is plenty of work to do between now and then.
For starters, Canty still is rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery after tearing all three knee ligaments in the fifth game last October, an injury similar to the one former Cowboys tight end Mike Lucky suffered during training camp in 2000.
Canty was well on his way to a full recovery until suffering a serious eye injury at a nightclub in Scottsdale, Ariz., in late January. While Canty said he was nothing more than a bystander in an altercation, he evidently was hit with a glass bottle in left eye, forcing him to have immediate surgery to repair a detached retina.
More importantly, the injury and subsequent delicate surgery halted his ability to continue rehabbing his knee for all of February and March. In fact, doctors would not allow him to fly to Indianapolis for the combine, fearing the pressure in the cabin of the aircraft might damage his eye. So he was forced to take what became a three-day train ride to the combine.
So while the rest of the draft prospects were running 40's, bench pressing and doing shuttle drills for NFL scouts, all Canty could do was interview with clubs. However, Canty was able to visit the Cowboys here at Valley Ranch by himself about a month before the draft.
Not until early April was Canty medically cleared for a brief workout. Several Cowboys officials, including associate trainer Britt Brown, who specializes in rehabbing injured players, attended Canty's workout, which apparently went well, considering his recent injuries and lack of conditioning.
"We're satisfied, after visiting with some of the best experts in the country over the last 24 hours that he is progressively getting better," Jones said of Canty's eye. "We think he can come in and potentially be ready at training camp, or early into training camp. His knee, we're fine with his knee. The eye has kept him from doing some of the things (to rehab his knee). We can get him in here and make up any lost time with his knee."
So from here, the Cowboys are expecting Canty will have another eye surgery to remove scar tissue, a normal laser procedure that will likely keep the defensive end off of his feet for another 4-8 weeks. Assuming he has the surgery in early May, Canty won't be able to resume his knee rehab and regular workouts until early July - and quite possibly not until the Cowboys open training camp in late July in Oxnard, Calif.
After the eye surgery, Canty will wear a contact lens in his left eye and a protective shield on his face mask. After the season, Canty possibly will need another surgery to fully attach the retina.
As for the knee, Canty might not be as far along in his rehab as most people six months after reconstructive surgery because the eye injury has impeded his progress, and likely will once again following this next surgery. He once again will be prohibited from strenuous activity.
But the Cowboys still seem convinced the injury is healing at a normal rate and have not ruled out the possibility of Canty being ready for the start of the season.
At worst, the Virginia defensive end would start the season on physically unable to perform (PUP), meaning he would miss the first six games of the season. At that point, he would be eligible to return to practice for two more weeks before the Cowboys would have to either activate him or place him on injured reserve.
However, that would be a severe worst-case scenario since the Cowboys are currently holding out hope Canty will be ready to start practicing again during training camp.
From a medical standpoint, the Cowboys training staff, with Brown and head trainer Jim Maurer, certainly did their homework. But also know the Cowboys are fully aware what kind of person they're getting as well. Remember, Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells is still good friends with Virginia head coach Al Groh, who actually replaced Parcells as the Jets head coach back in 2000.
And it sounds as if Canty knows a thing or two about his team as well.
"I've had a few Coach Parcells moments and memories with Coach Groh," Canty said. "He seems like the kind of person I'd like to play for. He said he's a good coach, a disciplinarian and just a player's coach. I look forward to playing down there."
Canty will return to Valley Ranch on Thursday, along with about 20 other rookie draft choices and free agents, although he won't be practicing with the rest of the new players in this weekend's rookie mini-camp.
"I'm just excited to get started," Canty said. "I thought I would probably (get drafted on Saturday). But that's OK. I know I'm coming into a great situation where I have the opportunity to play for the Dallas Cowboys."
And if he gets to play sooner than later, the Cowboys know Canty has the opportunity to become the steal of the draft.