Last week I took a look at the Cowboy’s defensive line and my expectations for them in the upcoming season. If you want to read this article you can find it here. This week I’ll be examining their offensive counterpart.
Out of all the units of the Cowboy’s, the offensive line is the most complex. There are many questions surrounding them as they enter the 2012 season, especially concerning the interior line. There are numerous position battles for starting spots and we’ll be looking at all of them today. Let’s first start with the one constant for next season.
Tyron Smith had a rather average year in 2012. He had his ups and downs. Without a doubt, he was our best offensive linesman last year. After a great rookie season at right tackle, Tyron moved to the left side in 2012. One bump to Tyron’s game last year was penalties. He had 11 penalties last year, which is an astonishing amount. In pass protecting, Tyron only allowed 3 sacks. That’s pretty good, however when I watched Tyron he really struggled at times. I saw many time where Smith would let his man get a quick pressure on Romo. If it weren’t for Romo’s ability to scramble, I feel like Tyron would’ve been credited with more sacks allowed. In the running game, I really liked what I saw out of Tyron. He’s always been a solid run blocker and can contain his man. He’s fairly quick and can get to the second level. He’s not a mauler, but he can still get a bit of push in the run game. Fans are hoping that Tyron will continue to improve his play. In particular, he needs to improve on his pass protection.
Now let’s move on to the other tackle. At right tackle, we had Doug Free last year, who played very poorly last year. Remember how I said Tyron Smith had an astonishing 11 penalties this year? Well Tyron was only second in terms of penalties. Free not only led the Cowboys, but also led all offensive tackles in penalties with 15. We can’t have that many penalties on our team, because they kill our drives. Free looked lost for a good part of the season. His run blocking was not as good and he was charged with 7 sacks allowed. Free was arguably our worst offensive linesman this year. Eventually he’d split time with Jermey Parnell, who performed well. Prior to 2012, Free was an average pass protected and a very good run blocker. Unfortunately in 2012, he seemed to have regressed greatly. This is definitely a make or break year for Free.
I’m going to talk briefly on Jermey Parnell. Towards the end of the year, he got more playing time in place of the ineffective Doug Free. Parnell has lots of potential but is rather raw. One thing I hope to see him improve on is his pass protection. He wasn’t horrible, but you want to see a bit more consistency in pass protection with your tackles. Parnell has good athletic ability, and could be the starter at right tackle this year. He will be competing against Doug Free for the starting position.
Let’s talk about the interior line now. I’ll begin with Nate Livings. Livings was an average starter for us. He wasn’t outstanding to me, nor did he make many mistakes. I felt like Livings was a very effective mauler. He’d get a good push on the defensive lineman. He looked uncomfortable when we used him on pulls, though our running game was in general pretty bad this year. I felt like Livings was our best pass protector last year. He allowed five sacks, which is high, but he didn’t consistently allow pressure. I expect Livings to keep the left guard position, but his age does worry me. Livings played poorly in Cincinnati and I’m scared that he’ll play poorly in 2013.
The center position will see a major change this year. Our first round pick, Travis Frederick, should be the starter this year. Last year Cook played at the position for the majority of the season. This was due to injury to Phil Costa. Cook was not a very good starter, but he provides some depth for the team. Phil Costa really struggles with pass protection. He gets pushed back constantly, which gives up interior pressure. As a run blocker, Costa is great though. His mobility and quickness allows him to get to the second lever and block effectively. He’s not a strong player, but he has a niche as a mobile offensive lineman. Costa should be competing for the left guard position. I’m going to spare judgement Travis Frederick, since I’d like to see what he can produce on a professional level before evaluating him. I do have high expectations for him though.
Mackenzy Bernadeau was the starting right guard last year. There weren’t many positives to his play last year. I guess he didn’t have many penalties. As a run blocker he didn’t get a push at all. For pass protection, he allowed six sacks. That is simply unacceptable for a guard. Bernadeau should be competing for the starting right guard position alongside Ronald Leary and Phil Costa. I don’t think Bernadeau will earn it, but he does provide good versatility and depth. He can play all three interior positions on the offensive line, and gives the Cowboy some flexibility in case of injuries.
As a unit, the offensive line is a mismatch of players. Each player seems to excel in a different aspect of their job. The main consistency is that they seem rather poor in pass protection all together. With our offensive system, they need to be good at pass protection. The Cowboys ranked 31st in rushing yards last year. A lot of our offensive linesmen are good in one aspect of run blocking, but with Murray injured last year it was hard to make the most of that.
There are a lot of questions with our linesman. I’m a bit going into next year. But our offense has always been successful, even with a weak offensive line. The running game should improve from last year. It’s hard to get any worse. Without a doubt this is the weakest unit for the Cowboys. If they can improve as a unit, our offense can be potent next year.