Austin On Dallas: Will The Cowboys Finally Upgrade At Center?

To resurrect these Dallas Cowboys as a force to be reckoned with, several necessary improvements and upgrades to the roster are necessary.

Not all of these alterations need to be costly or earth-shattering, yet plenty of appropriate contract restructures and personnel tweaks must occur prior to September.

Along with the substantial overhaul needed at offensive line, there’s no doubt Dallas will still have quality work to do assembling a viable contender for 2013.

The consequential decision to either upgrade the center position with a new player or simply leave it to the hands already on deck, is one that will likely seal their fate prior to Week 1.

Will Dallas add a talented player through free agency or the draft, or naively ignore the massive importance of the position once again?

This imperative choice will either have the Cowboys rushing towards a brighter future in 2013, or riddle them in mediocrity for another agonizing season.

 

IGNORE CENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL

It is my firm opinion, if not guarantee, that the center needed to make any type of playoff run is not currently on this team.  That guy wasn’t on the roster for the last 2 seasons, yet the Cowboys made no rational attempt to locate him.

How management and player personnel could be so careless and completely ignore an absolutely crucial piece of the offensive line is beyond me.  You just don’t “get by” and have any sort of playoff success with a less than average center.

There may be one exception to allowing a somewhat average (not awful) center…he is shadowed by a highly capable, consistent guard on EACH side.

Regardless of which side, if a below average center is paired with even one below average guard, serious problems and losses will result.

Needless to say, Dallas did not have 2 high-quality guards shadowing the center in either of the last 2 seasons, and they knew it going in.  If they didn’t, then they seriously need to hire a new o-line talent evaluator.

Neither of the starting guards from 2011 (Montrae Holland, Kyle Kosier) were retained by the Cowboys for 2012.  That says it all about their performance, even though they were a better option the year before than where Dallas is at guard now.

In 2012, Phil Costa remained the starting center even though he was mediocre at best from day one. And the replacement free agent signings who were anointed starters at guard were widely viewed as questionable when they arrived.

Almost everyone outside of Valley Ranch knew Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings were nothing special, if not probable liabilities.

Neither of those additions made anyone smile with pride and excitement aside from Cowboys management.  Quite the contrary for fans, most of us confusingly scrambled to find positives in anything they did leading up to the signings.

 

CENTER IMPORTANCE CANNOT BE OVERSTATED

The center is so much more than another linemen clearing a running lane or shielding the passer.  This guy is the line general.  He dissects alignments in front of him, calls the blocking assignments, and makes the adjustments for his fellow linemen.

Not to mention he is responsible for making sure the ball gets to the QB before the play clock expires (which Dallas is 2 seconds from almost every snap).  On top of that, he also has to get the ball in the QB’s hands with little complication.

This position is a crucial main cog for any consistently successful offensive line.  Just for example, let’s look at the 2013 Pro Bowl centers.  3 of 4 were on playoff teams…Green Bay (Jeff Saturday), Houston (Chris Myers), and Seattle (Max Unger).

The one who didn’t make the playoffs (Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey) was part of a line that was missing 4 o-line starters when playing Dallas.  They never had a prayer with that many injuries.  60% of the top 10 ranked centers in the NFL made the playoffs.

So where did all the guys who played a down of center for Dallas grade out of all 69 NFL centers?  Ryan Cook – 19, Phil Costa – 23, and Mackenzy Bernadeau – 65).

The above rankings were out of all NFL centers who played a single snap in 2012.  Of the players with 25% of the team’s snaps or greater, the Cowboys’ lone representative (Ryan Cook) was below the midpoint at 19 of 36 centers.

 

MOVING FORWARD IN THE MIDDLE

The centers currently on the Cowboys roster just aren’t talented enough (among other things) to provide the complete package of skills needed at the position.

Phil Costa is not that guy.  He produced a lackluster 2011 season from start to finish.  In 2012 Costa was injured 3 times keeping him out of most of the off-season and camp, and all but 126 snaps.

Did he show improvement in his limited playing time in 2012?  Yes, I will agree to that, but not enough forward motion to be where Dallas needs to be.  His play aside, do the Cowboys really want to bet the success of a season on a center with a nagging back injury that flared up on the regular?

Back injuries for linemen are like Achilles’ tears for cornerbacks…they likely will never return to the same performance level as before.  A cornerback relies on constant quick cuts and change of directions covering most receiver routes.  The center constantly shoulders tremendous pressure and weight on his back almost every snap.

Regardless if Costa plays Game 1 in 2013 at a new high level or not, trusting him to stay healthy for the other 15 games is playing Russian Roulette with the playoffs…again.

Ryan Cook, while doing an admirable job in relief, is nothing more than an average center and a nice depth player.  His past career clearly shows this, and his performance in 2012 did nothing to demonstrate he could be above average going forward.

Finally, I hear many fans applauding the Mackenzy Bernadeau switch to center.

Once again just like Ryan Cook, this guy has shown nothing in his career to prove he can be an above average player.

Bernadeau has his bright moments but remains very inconsistent, which never bodes well at this position.

Cowboys management must finally wake up and secure a quality center to solidify the cohesion of the line through calling assignments, snap timing, and solid blocking.  Dallas has to acquire a player with the special skillset to fulfill the complex demands of the position.

Preferably someone that has spent several years playing center (even if only college) and not flopping around at guard most of the time.  The center is a highly specialized position with several unique tricks of the trade.

Now’s the time to add a guy who firmly knows how to play the position at a consistent, high level and will end the failed, transition type player rotation at center in Dallas.

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Tags: Center Dallas Cowboys Mackenzy Bernadeau Phil Costa

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