Aside from the accepted belief the Dallas Cowboys are sitting pretty with their starting left tackle Tyron Smith, there are several questions surrounding the rest of the herd.
First and foremost, let me just state the potential starters along the o-line are much more formidable than 2012. I’m referencing the potential candidates as a group in comparison to the limited cast last season, which reached a panic level abruptly.
Phil Costa and Kevin Kowalski sat on the shelf while career back-up, freshly signed Ryan Cook led the hopes of this shaky bunch. Travis Frederick was busy levying blocks in the Big Ten.
While rookie free agent Ronald Leary started green behind the ears, and was relegated to learn the pro game on the Cowboys’ practice squad.
Much has changed heading into the 2013 training camp in Oxnard next month. Let’s take a look at the different camp position battles and why each presents progress in its own way.
1) LEFT GUARD – NATE LIVINGS VS. RONALD LEARY
Nate Livings continues to be bothered with a problematic knee just months following a clean up knee surgery. No real change there as Livings was hampered with knee problems all offseason in 2012 and during the regular season.
A year later, this can only present positive improvement if he regains enough health to compete on Sundays.
As for Ron Leary, coaches, teammates, and those in the know can’t say enough about his recent jump from an inconsistent rookie to a powerful contender for a starting role.
It sounds like the progress report on Leary is his physical skillset has already arrived at pro starter level, it’s now a matter of mastering the mental side of blocking assignments, etc.
Regardless of Leary swiping the starting spot from Livings or not, both guys will present a 1,2 combo at LG that surpasses 2012.
2) BEST CENTER / RIGHT GUARD COMBINATION
As mini-camp practices have indicated, it appears the Cowboys have already determined Travis Frederick is qualified to enter training camp as the unanimous favorite to start at center.
It also seems they expect Fredrick to present the best option at center for the regular season. His practice time at guard has been severely limited to side work so far.
However, there are further considerations to take into consideration. Namely since Frederick also has the skills to play guard quite well, what is the best player combination Dallas can field at Center/Right Guard?
It doesn’t seem to this point that Dallas is all that confident Costa could play guard above the level of either Frederick or Bernadeau. Costa looks to be destined for back-up center duty if he can’t move into the starting lineup through the transfer of Frederick to Bernadeau’s spot.
So let’s say the combo of Phil Costa back at center and Travis Frederick at right guard is a slight upgrade over a Frederick/Bernadeau pairing at those spots. In my opinion that’s how it would shake out if given the appropriate snaps to display this.
Is it really worth sacrificing a year of pro experience at center for Frederick if the option of moving him to guard for a year helps in the short run? Center is where I feel they ultimately see him as the future of the position. Is the small 2013 line upgrade worth a possible sacrifice of learning new pro center skills he would have picked up this season?
I say yes, the Cowboys have spent the last several years covering the next years along with the present. I say it’s time to field the best 5 guys no matter what the cost or sacrifice. The offense is dripping with skills talent and scorers from all positions. Give them an above average starting 5 linemen and watch out NFC East.
Regardless of which of those two combos takes the day, either one will be a vast improvement over the 2012 pair of Ryan Cook / Mackenzy Bernadeau (in first year with Dallas). No one will argue that those two as a tandem were littered with unfortunate incompetence.
3) LEFT TACKLE – DOUG FREE VS. JERMEY PARNELL
This one seems fairly obvious. Doug Free was coasting on a fat paycheck most of 2012 until the coaches finally manned up and made him take responsibility for his weak play. Jermey Parnell was just coming around consistency-wise and displaying he could at least play to the level of the waning starter in front of him.
Now we have 2 guys fighting for their NFL futures. Parnell will boost his stock tremendously if he can land a heightened role as a pro level starting tackle. Starters command starter money and secure contracts. Doug Free has been brought back to reality on a much reduced contract.
Free is well aware if doesn’t step up his game and lock down his starting spot, his NFL future is all but relegated to back-up contracts and an even bigger pay cut than the one he just agreed to. There’s no way Dallas would keep him as a part-time starter in 2014 with a $3.5 mil guaranteed price tag.
Needless to say both these guys are hungry dogs fighting for prime Arlington steaks, instead of future helpings of soggy Kibbles and Bits in wastelands the likes of Cleveland. Both have shown flashes they have the ability to be competent starters.
It will be very interesting to see which one hits the gas and jumps to another gear to qualify. It’s no secret both contestants tasted valuable starting snaps during their heated competition in 2012. The difference is in 2012, Parnell was unsure of his capabilities and Free was living in a false sense of security.
Whoever wins the fierce competition in 2013, the Cowboys will greatly benefit from two very hungry, highly motivated players laying it all on the line for their financial futures and status in the league.