Elite coaches around the league understand without question there is an undeniable basic requirement to scoring points…you cannot perform this task consistently without a solid offensive line. Period.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh showed no lack of offensive line praise while misdirecting a Super Bowl question about his offensive playmakers…
"I’d like to talk about our offensive line, if that’s okay. That’s been a phenomenal group for us, and I’d call them offensive weapons as well."
Of course Harbaugh went on to name and praise each of his linemen during the answer. It’s the same quote many writers have discussed repeatedly when mentioning Jim Harbaugh’s Super Bowl interviews.
Now let’s switch focus to his brother John Harbaugh, the reigning Super Bowl Champion head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. I’m not gonna discuss any of this season’s quotes from the elder Harbaugh.
Here’s something much juicier from March 2012. These emphatic words were said one month after the 2011 Super Bowl. Before any mini-camps had arrived for the 2012 team.
These statements were prior to the future champs thumping any pads and taking one step on their title march that ended in glory in New Orleans 11 months later.
"That’s not going to cut it (in reference to 2011 o-line play). We have to upgrade the offensive line. The thing I’ve learned over the years in Philadelphia and everywhere else, it starts with the offensive line on offense.The quarterback is obviously critically important, but if you don’t have an offensive line you can forget about it.We can go a veteran free agent. We can go a couple of draft picks. It could be a guy that may be cut at some point in time (by another team). We’ll be turning over every stone."
The fiery brothers and conference champion head coaches adamantly understand the offensive line is an absolute must to winning football. Yet Dallas Cowboys GM Jerry Jones and HC Jason Garrett have been noticeably passive, and improperly less than aggressive in maximizing this crucial area.
LACK OF O-LINE COMMITMENT
I’m sorry I will not remotely buy the notion that the powers that be in Dallas fully understand a solid offensive line is an absolute necessity that requires a serious commitment.
Teams and coaches who get that philosophy don’t field 5 starters with huge question marks and hope for the best like they did in 2012. Honestly, 3 of the 5 players producing a solid year would have been an incredible result, with so many widely known uncertainties going in.
Tyron Smith was as close to a known element on the line by far, and hardly anyone knew if he could hold out the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul while manning his new left tackle spot. Smith showed promise and skills as a rookie, yet were the Cowboys positive he wouldn’t regress facing better opposing rushers from his new alignment?
What about right tackle Doug Free? He turned in an awful 2011 performance the year before.
Management was praying that was just a down year and attributed to being somewhat out of position on the left side and overwhelmed.
At guard the team brought in 2 new free agent starters with Jerry basically praising them as saviors upon arrival. All the while, the rest of the league knew those players created more questions than answers.
Nate Livings had no higher than an average past as a starter for the Bengals. Mackenzy Bernadeau had yet to show the ability to even hang on to a starting role, much less take over for the player Kyle Kosier was.
Phil Costa was fresh off his first year starting at center. Most Cowboys” faithful were stunned he retained the starting center job without attempted upgrade, especially after grading out negatively across the board. This was nothing more than a complete cross the fingers move from the organization.
RESULTS ENDED AS EXPECTED
Sadly, only Tyron Smith proved to be of any real worth as a competent starter. Costa showed improvement but now he is unreliable in both health and skill, at least in regards to the importance of filling the ‘starting’ center role.
Neither Livings or Bernadeau played well enough or consistent enough to be assumed starters again for 2013. The bright side is both have contract structures that make their cap hit light enough for the upcoming season to at the least provide depth.
And it’s abruptly apparent Free has no business making his huge salary. This must be a release-only situation, there is no way to justify much else even with taking a dead money cap hit next year.
There are several means to approaching revamping this offensive line and making it competent and viable for 2013. Simply make the solid commitment to upgrade across the board with the exception of Tyron Smith, and do whatever it takes to fulfill it.
Take a page from John Harbaugh in his statement prior to his 2012 Super Bowl season and leave no stone unturned finding these players who will make the line better. There is at least one free agent guard or center that can be found for relatively reasonable money that will produce at a higher level than Costa, Bernadeau, or Livings.
On top of current free agents, there are also quality salary cap casualties already hitting the open market at other positions. Between current free agents and cap casualties, there will be one or two solid opportunities to upgrade our current mess.
Focus the draft heavily towards finding 2 new offensive line starters. This is a notoriously deep draft along the offensive line, don’t waste this unique opportunity to expose that. With an unwavering commitment to fixing this horrendous o-line, it can and should be done.
We’ve all suffered enough through the mediocre results 2 years running when the offensive line was left to chance and crossed fingers. Back-to-back 8-8 seasons is no coincidence without a solid understanding the offensive line is your bread and butter, and a must to bring the best out of your talented skills players.
Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray are good football players ready to lead this team to the next level behind solid pass protection and open running lanes. Give these guys a chance to bring us to new heights, the offensive solution rests solely within the prowess of the offensive line.