Cowboys: What To Expect From La’el Collins

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The Dallas Cowboys are expecting big things out of first-round graded offensive lineman La’el Collins, who now moves into starting role.

Nobody can say that the Dallas Cowboys are sitting around pouting during their bye week. A record of 2-3 in an entire NFC East division separated by just a game or less is nothing to cry over.

Along with new starting quarterback Matt Cassel, undrafted rookie La’el Collins will also move into a permanent starting role on an offensive line that just might be ready to take off. New running back Christine Michael and Rod Smith also figure to see more playing time as Dallas’ transformation continues.

You know Collins’ story from last May; the first-round talent who ended up not even drafted because of a homicide that took place just before the draft. Instead of hanging out draft weekend in Chicago waiting to be selected, Collins left to assist homicide investigators that quickly concluded that he had nothing to do with crime.

By the time Collins was cleared, the draft was over, and that was that.

Say what you want about additions like defensive end Greg Hardy and the controversy surrounding him, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones hit a home run with this signing. Jones never let anybody near Collins in the hours following the draft. Immediately seeing the opportunity to add yet another blue-chip talent to a young offensive line that was already well-stocked, Collins signed with the Cowboys right on the spot.

Jones has a bit of history grabbing up undrafted talent for the offensive line.

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In fact, the last time we were discussing the benefits of an undrafted rookie joining the offensive line as a starter, it was none other than the same guy whose job Collins is taking.

If you think back a few seasons, Ronald Leary was a high priority signing by the Cowboys following the 2012 NFL Draft. The 6’4” and 320 pound blocker from Memphis received a $9,000 signing bonus and was guaranteed $205,000 of his $390,000 base salary.

In the Collins signing, Jones fully guaranteed a salary of $1.7 million, which easily landed the former LSU star – and that’s the difference between Leary and Collins.

The Cowboys already have three young Pro Bowl players on the offensive line in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Based on what we’ve already seen this season, adding Collins to this group almost seems a little unfair – more on that in a minute.

The huge advantage for the Cowboys is the fact that Collins played offensive tackle with the Tigers and is possibly overqualified to play inside. He obviously has pass protection skills, which most commonly are needed on the outside edges.

But Collins is also a road grater on the inside, as evidenced by this preseason block during the first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers back in mid-August.

Sure, preseason is preseason, but the 2015 regular season also offers strong evidence that a weakened rushing attack for the Cowboys this year might soon be a thing of the past.

Collins made his first career start against the Atlanta Falcons on Week 3, a game which ended up being lost despite a huge day for Dallas running backs. The Falcons matchup proved to be, by far, the biggest day for Dallas running backs this season.

Joseph Randle carried the ball 14 times that afternoon at AT&T Stadium for 87 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per carry. The team ran for 127 yards and posted a 6.0 average – still hard to imagine that game, which included four touchdowns on the ground, ending up the first defeat of the season for the Cowboys.

In the season opener against the New York Giants, Leary got the start following minimal work during training camp and the running game showed plenty of rust. The Dallas offense tallied up just 80 yards on 23 carries for a paltry 3.5 yards per carry – zero touchdowns, by the way.

The following week, the Cowboys started Leary again, although he wouldn’t finish the game due to a strained groin. Dallas rushed for just 109 yards as a team on 33 carries, an average of 3.3 yards per. Yet, if we take away four combined carries for 19 yards by Cowboys quarterbacks, that average falls down to 3.1, and again no touchdowns.

Moving ahead to Week 4 and the New Orleans Saints, Leary returned to the lineup and again the rushing attack faltered. Randle did score a touchdown on a goal line play in which the football broke the plane of the end zone by about one inch before being knocked lose and initially being ruled a fumble. The Dallas total on the ground was 115 yards on 28 carries for a 4.1 yard average – but take away Lance Dunbar‘s 45-yard scamper, and suddenly that average falls to just 2.3 yards per carry in another losing affair.

I don’t think we need to go over last weekend’s loss, do we?

Yes, Collins is a difference-maker and his presence should be felt immediately. He’s young, healthy and talented and that skill set should help Cassel and the new running backs immediately as the Cowboys try to remain relevant in the NFC East.

Next: Rangers: Final Take On 2015 Season

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