Yes, I know it’s only late May and the Dallas Cowboys’ Organized Team Activities are just underway, but that’s what bold predictions are all about, right?
Let’s lay this out real plain and simple folks. Just the facts ma’am…
72 – The number of sacks quarterback Tony Romo has endured the past two seasons behind our offensive line (36 in 2011 and 36 in 2012).
8 – The amount of rushing touchdowns our ‘Boys accumulated as a TEAM last season behind that very same offensive line. And only 13 the past two seasons with that Romo guy accounting for two of them.
1,265 – Total rushing output from ALL Dallas running backs last season which resulted in the 31st ranked rushing offense (there are only 32 teams).
1 – The amount of offensive line positions that are essentially guaranteed heading into 2013.
ZERO – The tolerance I will have (as well as many of you) if Romo continues to have to run for his dear life every other play, suffering through yet another season of taking 36 sacks.
It’s no secret the offensive line has been the teams’ biggest weakness the last two seasons (missing the playoffs both years). If that weakness does not evolve into a formidable strength VERY SOON, Romo will not live to see the end of his new shiny contract extension.
With that said, let’s meet them…your brand new starting offensive line.
From left to right…
LT – Mark Tuinei, LG Nate Newton, C – Mark Stepnoski, RG – Larry Allen, RT – Erik Williams
Can you IMAGINE Romo licking his chops from the mere sight of THIS starting lineup? Hey, a guy can dream right? This of course was the starting lineup from the 1995 season (minus Stepnoski that left via free agency after the 1994 season). You remember that offensive line right? They paved the way for Emmitt Smith’s career highs of 1,773 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns (YES, 25!) on the way to a unprecedented third Super Bowl title in four years.
Troy Aikman WAS that fortunate, but ol’ Tony can only sit and marvel the thought of playing behind the most dominant offensive line in Dallas Cowboys history.
So let’s meet who will ACTUALLY be responsible for keeping Romo’s jersey clean come week one against the maggots from New York.
Left Tackle – Tyron Smith
Yes, this was who I was referring to above to when I said “the only offensive line position that is essentially guaranteed heading into 2013.” The 9th overall pick from the 2011 draft will once again be responsible for protecting Tony Romo’s blind side. His athleticism for a big man is uncanny. Smith is entering year three with the Cowboys, year two at left tackle and also year two under the leadership of Bill Callahan.
He, like the rest of the offensive line, struggled last season but as the season wore on, his confidence grew as his play indicated. Will Tyron Smith continue to get better? Absolutely, and look for him to stay in Dallas for the next several years. Darrion Weems, who the Cowboys grabbed from Denver’s practice squad last season, is currently the back-up behind Smith on the left side.
Left Guard – Nate Livings
When Dallas signed Livings last season as an “affordable” free agent from Cincinnati, most Dallas fans replied with “Who?” And after the performance of the offensive line last season, many of those same fans are asking the same question a year later. Out of the two “affordable” free agent guards last season, (Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau) I believe Livings was indeed the better choice.
He will get some stiff competition from incumbents including; 2011 undrafted rookie Kevin Kowalski, 2012 undrafted rookie Ronald Leary, Ryan Cook (who ended up starting 11 games at center last season due to injuries) and even 2011 fourth round pick David Arkin. However I believe another offseason of learning the offense under Bill Callahan as well as the ability to stay compltetly healthy during training camp and through the regular season (unlike last season where he battled nagging injuries all year) will give Livings the edge for the starting job.
Is he perfect? Of course not, but with Dallas taking the “affordable” route, they did not pay for “perfect”; they paid for “serviceable.”
Center – The big, burly, nasty man-child…Travis Frederick
After the 2012 season ended, legions of Cowboys fans were calling for help on the offensive line. And not just help, but first round pick help. What did we get? A first round guard/center combo that will immediately boost the interior of the offensive line (where the most help was needed) and start from day one. The reaction? As with anything Dallas related; chastisement!
But hey, what else is new? Frederick has taken some lumps already in the rookie mini-camp and thus far through these OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) but that was to be expected from a rookie. The Wisconsin “man-child” will provide a presence in middle and anchor the interior of the Dallas offensive line for the foreseeable future, which is to be expected from a first round pick.
He possesses both the physical side and mental side of the game; now he just needs to gather invaluable experience in the OTA’s, mini-camps, training camp and these five preseason games to hone his game and get ready for that Giants defensive line.
Incumbent starter, Phil Costa (undrafted in 2010), will not simply hand his job over to the rookie, so it’s up to him to prove his worth and try to re-claim his starting spot. However, at the end of the day, you select a first round center to start day one at center. I don’t believe Costa has the arms to play guard. The knock on him has always been his short arms and you don’t want to be a starting guard in the NFL trying to reach block with short arms. Not Good!
The loser of this battle will likely immediately be the back-up center. And after THREE different players (Costa – 3 games, Bernadeau – 2 games, Cook – 11 games) started at center last season, it would not hurt to have some quality depth behind Frederick.