New Starters on the O-line: Why the O-line will improve in 2013


What can we expect from the offensive line in 2013? Will it improve? Will there be new starters? Cowboy fans enter training camp with many important questions. Perhaps none are more important than the ones questioning the offensive line. This is Part 3 profiling the Offensive Line as we head into camp. In Part 1 we assessed the offensive line’s 2012 performance. In Part 2 we discussed Bill Callahan’s Zone Blocking Scheme and how it works to the Cowboy’s advantage. Here in Part 3 we will look at the camp battles and predict the starting O-line for 2013.

Nov 22, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan (center) with the offensive line during the game against the Washington Redskins during a game on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Below, are listed the twelve linemen believed to have legitimate chances of making the roster in 2013.  The position(s) listed after their names indicate if they are versatile enough to play multiple spots or if they are singular in their abilities. Notice I did not differentiate between the LG and RG since both require the same basic skill set and I fully expect some to switch sides during camp.

  1. Tyron Smith (LT)
  2. Travis Frederick (C,G)
  3. Nate Livings (G)
  4. Mackenzy Bernadeau (G)
  5. Doug Free (RT)
  6. Jeremy Parnell (T)
  7. Ronald Leary (G)
  8. Phil Costa (C)
  9. Ryan Cook (C, G)
  10. Kevin Kowalski (C,G)
  11. David Arkin (G)
  12. Darrion Weems (LT)

These are the Top 12 entering camp. Expect the Cowboys to choose only 10 of these players for the final roster. Pay special attention to positional versatility when breaking down the offensive line. Just because a player is listed as one thing on the depth chart doesn’t mean he cannot be moved to another spot.

Offensive Line Training Camp Battles


Travis Frederick, Phil Costa, Ryan Cook, Kevin Kowalski

May 10, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick (70) participates in drills during rookie minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters in Irving, TX. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

First Round pick Travis Frederick from Wisconsin is expected to start at center for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013. Costa and Cook are signed to reasonable contracts and will either provide great depth or compete at a different position (namely at guard). It’s possible Frederick could be moved to one of the guard spots if all other options disappoint but it would stunt Fredericks development and the Cowboys will be hesitant to do so.

Frederick will take time building the strength needed to dominate in the NFL. Expect to see him lose battles from time to time against some of the stronger and faster defensive tackles. With the Cowboys O-line shifting to a zone blocking scheme, Frederick becomes even more important to the Cowboys since he has experience with the ZBS from his days at Wisconsin. His greatest impact will be presnap when he is able to call the blocking assignments to his fellow linemates. He is the smartest player on the field (according to Wonderlic) and will be the ultimate in Romo-friendly.

2013 Expected Starting Center: Travis Frederick

Backup(s) Phil Costa, Ryan Cook

Left/Right Guard

Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Ronald Leary, David Arkin, Ryan Cook, Kevin Kowalski

July 30, 2012; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Ronald Leary (65) enters the field on opening day of training camp. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Left and Right Guard are combined here because too often, people get consumed with the separated depth chart. The difference between the left and right guard is minimal so I fully expect to see a very fluid depth chart behind these gentlemen throughout training camp. This shuffling process will ensure the best players start and is generally a fairly common process to see in the preseason.

The incumbent starters are Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. To see their 2012 performance reviews visit here__. Long story short – Both players underachieved and played very poorly in 2012. If one sole shortcoming can be identified to pin all of the 2012 season’s failures on, it would be the offensive guard play. Both returning starters are sure to make the roster in 2013 because it would cost more to cut them than to keep them. But that does not mean they will be assured starting roles.

Ronald Leary is the top challenger to both incumbents. He has been a pet project of Jerry Jones and as a result has been closely nurtured by Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan. Fans and media have seen little to no action on Ronald Leary to suggest he is a good player or a bad player. That’s why he’s one of my top players to watch in Training Camp.

Based on his college performance, his offseason “love” from Cowboys brass, and the fact he’s competing at one of the weakest positions on the team, I truly believe Ronald Leary wins a starting spot on the O-Line.

Which spot will likely depend on who misses more time this preseason – Livings or Bernadeau. With all things being equal I feel Livings is a slightly better guard than Mack, and Leary will beat out Mack for the starting Right Guard spot.

Aug 21, 2011; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys guard David Arkin (62) block in the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

David Arkin is a complete enigma. One moment he’s potential dark horse starter, the next minute he’s lucky to even be on the team. What I’ve seen is an active lineman who will fit into Bill Callahan’s Zone Blocking Scheme quite well. Read more on the ZBS here__. Arkin’s problem has always been strength. I can’t see how he built up enough in the offseason to really compete for a starting role this season. IF he gained enough strength to keep from being a liability, then he has a future on this team in the coming years. But in 2013, his ceiling is probably as a back-up.

Ryan Cook’s versatility may be his saving grace. He isn’t starting quality but he can fill in at Center or at either Guard position. Technically, he has experience at Tackle also so in a real jam he could play every position on the O-line except Left Tackle.

Unless Livings and Mack have major breakout seasons in 2013 they will likely be cut in 2014. Their salaries will be too large to justify and the guaranteed portion will be exhausted. They know this and the Dallas Cowboys know this. Because of this the Cowboys will enter training camp with an eye to the future.

2013 Expected Starting Left Guard: Nate Livings

Backup(s): David Arkin, Ryan Cook

2013 Expected Starting Right Guard: Ronald Leary

Backup(s): Mackenzy Bernadeau, Ryan Cook


Right Tackle

Doug Free, Jeremy Parnell, Edawn Coughman

Nov 22, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Jeremy Parnell (78) prepares to block during the game against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. The Redskins beat the Cowboys 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Doug Free was simultaneously the highest paid and worst playing Right Tackle in the NFL last year. If anything, his numbers were assisted by Tony Romo’s pocket presence and allusiveness. He was so bad Bill Callahan rotated Jeremy Parnell in for snaps during the latter part of the season. For those that don’t know, Offensive Line coaches HATE rotations. The fact that Callahan instituted it for Right Tackle says something very bold.

In the offseason Free took a paycut once his research showed he couldn’t compete for a starting spot anywhere but Dallas. That should also tell us something about our situation. Doug Free remains on the team because the Dallas Cowboys have an exaggerated fear of the unknown and have been unwilling to look behind him on the depth chart…until now.

Jeremy Parnell is a fairly good run blocker and will be instrumental in resurrecting the run game. If he can learn the new additions to the Cowboys Zone Blocking Scheme they will be running in 2013 then he should easily win the spot. His pass protection is subpar but having less-than optimal blocking for Romo’s front side isn’t nearly as dangerous as poor blocking up the middle or on the blind side. Romo survived Free and he will also survive Parnell.

2013 Expected Right Tackle: Jeremy Parnell

Backup: Doug Free

Left Tackle

Tyron Smith, Darrion Weems

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith (77) attempts to block New Orleans Saints defensive end Junior Galette (93) during the game at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tyron Smith has the starting role locked down for the next 10+ years. It’s comforting to have one stable spot on this troublesome O-line. If you would like to refresh your memory check out his 2012 grade here___.

While Smith isn’t a Pro Bowler, he appears to be on his way. His linemates aren’t doing him any favors and until a little stability is found next to him he will continue to struggle.

Weems has a chance as a swing tackle but he will have to “wow” everyone early in camp. The Cowboys will be active on the market searching for another tackle to solidify depth and/or outright challenge Parnell and Free on the right side.

2013 Expected Staring Left Tackle: Tyron Smith

Backup: Doug Free

Stay close for a short “Wrap-up” article on the Offensive line this weekend. We will interpret and sum up everything we discussed this week and draw more conclusions for the upcoming season.

Next Week: A look at Monte Kiffin’s defense. It’s not a simple as you think…

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