Perhaps no unit on the Dallas Cowboys is under more pressure to improve (and improve drastically) than the offensive line. The offensive line almost singlehandedly ruined the 2012 season because of poor pass protection and dreadful run-blocking. If the Cowboys have any hope of improving in 2013, it needs to start at the offensive line.
This offseason the Dallas Cowboys had high hopes of improving three positions along that five man line. That’s a significant overhaul and a churn of 60%, which tells you an awful lot about how dire the circumstances. But after free agency and a draft, rich in offensive linemen, the Cowboys enter the 2013 with only one known upgrade: Center Travis Frederick.
Romo has one of the worst QB ratings in the entire NFL when dealing with pressure up the middle. Pressure up the middle leads to throwing errors, interceptions, fumbles, sacks, and injuries. All of those things lose games in the NFL. The center tandem of Phil Costa and Ryan Cook have been replaced by the aforementioned Travis Frederick. That’s a good upgrade without even seeing Frederick play an NFL snap.
For as bad as Doug Free was in 2012, Romo dealt with it fairly well. Free plays the right tackle position and was frequently beat by speed-rushers and bull-rushers alike. But the pressure he allowed, Romo typically noticed in time to react and avoid. If it resulted in a sack, Romo was able to protect himself and the ball adequately. The point is, the right tackle can afford to play poorly from time to time.
Tyron Smith on the left side did ok. He didn’t do as well as hoped but he’s young and his future bright. To put things in perspective, he was head and shoulders above Doug Free but nowhere close to a Pro Bowler either. For the most part he protected Romo’s blind side and that is about the most important assignment on any given passing play. For Smith, the arrow is pointed up and the Cowboys will be happy to have him for the next 10-15 years.
So while the tackles aren’t optimal, they are at least perfectly acceptable. The same can’t be said for the middle of the line…
Which brings us to the Guards. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings were free agent signings last year who didn’t live up to even the most modest of expectations. Both spent much of the offseason injured and once healthy and reinserted into the lineup – simply underachieved.
In 2013, they look to be on the same course again. Both are missing practice with injuries and failing to build cohesiveness with their linemates. Injuries are also keeping them from meaningful weight room time, conditioning, and the basic understanding/execution of Bill Callahan’s unique type of zone blocking scheme.
In a future article we can explain the intricacies of Callahan’s zone blocking scheme, but for now, just know that it is considerably more difficult to master than a simple man blocking scheme. It takes time, lots of time, and of course – practice.
Because of the structure of their contracts Bernadeau and Livings cannot be cut. They would cost more to cut than to keep. In year three (2014) of their contracts that changes and they become financially expendable. But just because they must remain on the roster does not mean they need to start…
The Changing of the Guard
Jerry and Stephen Jones have made no secret their love for OG Ronald Leary. Leary, an undrafted free agent from Memphis, was once regarded as a solid 3rd or 4th round pick in the draft. A degenerative knee issue prevented him from being drafted at all in 2012. This knee issue known as OCD has more long-term consequences than short term. Because of it Leary may only be able to play a few years in the NFL. But that doesn’t mean he can’t play now. Leary is a now-cost option to replace either starting guard in 2013 or at the latest 2014.
Leary isn’t the only option to replace the current underperforming and oft-injured guards but he is the best option at this point. In Sports D/FW’s Training Camp Kickoff we will profile the 2013 camp battles including the offensive guard situation. When the pads come on we will see who the real contenders are. Until then, just pray the status quo is enough.
Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag.