Centers in the Hands of an Angry God


As part of Jason Garrett’s new era of accountability football (or just freeing up cap space and avoiding a liability), the Dallas Cowboys parted ways with Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode. Thrust in the starting role like a job applicant on live television, Costa was serviceable until teams starting to exploit his Sonny Liston-like arms and his sluggish reaction time out of his stance. Then defensive tackles started to blow him off the ball. Furthermore, Costa had a problem blocking to his left and to his right as opposed to straight ahead. Although his heart and attitude were admirable, Phil Costa was part of the offensive line’s vulnerability last season.

The immediate reaction is to go out and draft a center. We’ve heard about how the Cowboys should take DeCastro. Then, we heard about how DeCastro might be our center because he snapped the ball for Andrew Luck at Stanford’s pro day. Now we’re hearing that the Cowboys might be interested in Wisconsin center Peter Konz, if they decide to go offensive lineman in the first round at all.Frankly, if we draft DeCastro or Konz, I’ll be pleased because I’ll know Jerry Jones is truly trying to make a “Romo friendly” offense at that point. Those two players along with Tyron Smith would have us set no matter who our skill positions players were.

Of course, our new center may already be on the roster but in disguise. Mackenzy Bernadeau may be our next starting center. Bernadeau’s biggest strength is Costa’s greatest weakness: he can get out of his snap quicker. If Bernadeau can be taught to snap the ball, which, hey, we were thinking of making Kosier our center anyway because we already thought about it in 2010, then maybe Romo will have a bigger pocket to step into for throws down field.

I don’t think we should forget Kevin Kowalski. He’s my dark horse for taking the center position in 2012. He’s not perfect. Obviously, Kevin Kowalski would benefit from all the conditioning Mike Woicik could give him and all the teaching Bill Callahan could impart to him. He showed he’s a decent backup when called upon, as he did against San Fransicko in Week 2 and against the Giants in Week 14. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Toledo, I’m rooting for Kevin Kowalski to compete for the starting center position in training camp, assuming we pass the dorch on Konz or DeCastro.

Looking back on the ’90s, Mark Stepnoski wasn’t a mammoth of an offensive lineman. Now, I’m not saying we can get by with a 269-pound center, but I am suggesting the answer might lie in our guard play because Stepnoski was in between two good guards in Newton and Gogan. Perhaps that’s where the Livings and the Bernadeau signings may be helpful, since both players are best suited for our new zone blocking scheme. Frankly, if we’re going to rely on guard play to improve the center position, then for Heaven’s sake, draft Dave DeCastro. I’ll feel much better about having Costa/Kowalski/Bernadeau/Acme at center than if we don’t.

We’ve had some great centers in our franchise history: Dave Manders, Tom Rafferty, and Mark Stepnoski. I hope Jerry Jones, an ex-offensive lineman himself, realizes this offense can’t flourish with just a slap schmeckel at center.


Oh, speaking of “slap schmeckels,” which is the Yiddish/PG version of one of our ex-special team coaches’ favorite phrases, I’d like to take this space to remember one of our more colorful and inspirational assistant coaches in franchise history, Joe Avezzano. I remember him on the sidelines in the mid-1990’s gesturing whenever Deion Sanders or Herschel Walker would bust a big return, but I really didn’t get to know his style until Michael Irvin’s 4th and Long. I know a lot of Cowboys fans snicker at that production, but I’m thankful for it because it gave me, as a fan who could never be there, a glimpse into what made Coach Joe Avezzano a coach you wanted to play for, as Bill Bates recently put it. Take a listen here to Darren Woodson’s words about Coach Joe. He was a part of that Cowboys mythos in the 1990’s, and he’ll be missed. The only way he’ll be forgotten is if our special teams play like slap schmeckels.