The Cowboys Need Leary, Not Collins, in Lineup


"The Dallas Cowboys need to turn things around this weekend against the Saints. For that they need Ronald Leary, not La’el Collins, to start at guard."

Rookie La’el Collins played a strong game on Sunday, his first professional start of his career. After rotating with Mackenzy Bernadeau in week 2, Collins was recognized for his play and given the starting nod in Ronald Leary’s absence in week 3.

"“I though he did some good things,” said Jason Garrett of La’el Collins.  “He was a physical player. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable out there. I thought the experience he had last week against Philadelphia was good for him — not perfect by any means, but I do think he’s getting better and he’s taking advantage of his opportunities and he’s learning from his game experience.”"

The Cowboys have big hopes for their rookie guard from LSU. La’el Collins is expected to be a building block of this young defensive line, joining Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin for years to come.

But that day just isn’t now.

Signing undrafted rookie La’el Collins after the draft was a major coup for the Dallas Cowboys. After all, the Cowboys, a team that was already boasting the best young offensive line in football, was able to lure the top undrafted free agent. “The rich just get richer,” they said.

Despite being a first round talent, Collins’ two degrees of separation from a murder case caused his draft stock to plummet. He was cleared by law enforcement but the damage was done and Collins went undrafted, later signing a 3 year/$1.599M with the Cowboys.

The former LSU tackle projected as both a guard and a right tackle at the professional level. With Doug Free locked up for the next three years at roughly $5M per year, Collins’ immediate future looked to be at guard.

Obviously All Pro guard Zack Martin is entrenched safely at one side of the line so Collins would have to look to Leary’s spot as the only attainable position. And that’s how Ronald Leary, in the last year of his contract, found himself suddenly competing to retain his starting guard spot.

Collins had a preseason like any other talented rookie. He had ups and he had downs. In the end, the veteran Leary won the job. In Leary’s absence, Collins played well, but doesn’t mean the Dallas Cowboys don’t need Ronald Leary back in a big way.

You see, these offensive linemen couldn’t be any more different from each other. Both are quality players capable of turning in solid performances on a consistent basis, but both also have polar opposite strengths and weakness.

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Ronald Leary isn’t the most athletic or fleet-of-foot player on the line, but he’s strong – really strong. And when Leary leans forward, the pile moves forward. Leary excels in an offensive system that uses a man blocking scheme (MBS). The Cowboys, famous for their zone blocking scheme, surprisingly run a multitude of MBS plays. In fact, they’ve been averaging more than 30% MBS the past year.

30-40% may not be the majority, but it’s still a significant amount. MBS is especially important in short yardage and goal line situations. In these all-important situations, Ronald Leary really earns his money.

La’el Collins, 22, has not even approached his physical peak as an offensive linemen. Unlike the skill positions, the typical OL peaks in his late 20’s. Size, strength, and technique take time to hone, and usually need years of offseason programs to fully develop.

In run-blocking and short-yardage push, La’el Collins falls short. But that doesn’t mean Collins a lesser player either. Collins just has different strengths.

Even to the casual viewer, La’el Collins is a far superior pass protector to Ronald Leary. What’s obvious on film is confirmed by Pro Football Focus’ scouting and grading department. Last season, Ronald Leary graded a -7.8 in pass protection, ranking him #56 among guards in that particular category.

Pass protection was, is, and always will be Ron Leary’s weakness. It’s his strength that carries him into the top of the league – run blocking. When looking at run blocking alone, Leary scored a 14.5 grade last year ranking him in the NFL’s top 5 at the guard position.

In a run-heavy offense like the Dallas Cowboys, the importance of a dominant run-blocker cannot be overstated.

Given the Cowboys’ current climate and condition (no Dez Bryant and no Tony Romo), the Cowboys need to place the focus on the running game. If Tony Romo were still back there throwing passes, it would be a different story. Protecting Romo is always job #1 and Ronald Leary clearly isn’t the best option in that regard.

Protecting Brandon Weeden? Not even in the top-10 most important things to do. The Cowboys need to pound the ball up the middle and Ronald Leary gives them the best chance at doing that.

Over the past few years, Ron Leary has bulked up and honed his skills. He may be a below-average pass protector with an all-around limited ceiling, but he’s earned what he has and he’s a damn good run blocker.

Collins has a bright future on this team…probably best at right tackle…and his time will come. But the Cowboys need their running game to get back on track and for that they need Ronald Leary.

Next: The Cowboys Don't Need a QB Controversy

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