Will The O-Line Spell Doomsday for Dallas?


One day after the most decorated and arguably best offensive lineman in Cowboys history was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys will play their first preseason game of the year.  Many of the starters will either not be playing or will see extremely limited action.  Unfortunately, that could be a trend for one of the most important positions to this team’s overall success in 2013.  Of course, I am talking about the offensive line.  Let’s just say, this line could most certainly use a Larry Allen clone.

First, the positive news.  Whatever happens with this team in 2013, barring catastrophic injury, Dallas has two pillars of the offensive line set up for the next 10+ years.  Left tackle Tyron Smith and Center Travis Frederick will both be only 22 years old when the season starts.  That makes for a very uplifting future considering Tyron Smith is one of the ten best left tackles in the game already.  He would almost certainly be considered one of the best players in the entire league under the age of 25 as well.  As for Frederick, if his play at Wisconsin is a true indicator, he will at the very minimum be more than serviceable.  Look around the league and you will see that almost every other franchise wishes they could say that they two future stars like this on their line.

June 11, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick (70) and Tyron Smith (77) during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Now for the reality of the moment…

Right Tackle Doug Free was given an ultimatum of either taking a massive pay cut or being cut.  Outside of one or two days, I have not heard much about him regaining whatever form possessed Jerry Jones to hand him $32 million in the first place.  His backup / competition for the starting job, Jeremy Parnell, has been quiet so far in camp, mostly due to a nagging hamstring issue.  I know it’s still early, but that’s not really any excuse given that other young players have had excellent camps up to this point.  The injury part is going to be a repetitive them here, by the way.

Last year’s $30 million investment in two starting guards is beginning to look like an epic fail.  Nate Livings, already seeing almost no OTA work after his knee surgery in February, is now going to require a second procedure that could force him to miss the season opener.  He was able to get a grand total of five practices in before his training camp was more than likely done.  The other guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau just had his first practice of this camp on Friday after sitting out with shoulder issues.  Neither of those two really did much last year to make you feel a lot of excitement for their return, but they were still the best options available going into this year.

Aside from Phil Costa and the suddenly not horrible David Arkin, all other competitors for the guard spots have found their way to the infirmary at some point and we are only two weeks deep into camp.  Some like Kevin Kowalski and Ryan Cook will be missing more than a day here and there, all of which meaning that continuity will once again be a major issue for this unit.

So what do the Cowboys do?

Well, it’s likely that Dallas probably does nothing, largely due to the fact that Jerry Jones refuses to address the reality that this unit is the weakest on the entire team.  That means that notable free agent options such as Tackle Jamaal Brown and Guard Brandon Moore remain free or likely sign elsewhere.  The next best option is probably to hope and pray that Bernadeau actually can stay healthy and shows us something with a full year in the system under his belt.  This leaves the other starting spot on opening day to go to either Costa or Ronald Leary.  It seems like Dallas is really sold on Leary either to break through and win a spot or at worst be in the rotation on game days.  If he can do so and play well, that would be a huge coup for the Cowboys.  This could also be a big pre-season for Arkin, who could find himself in a position no one saw coming.  How he fares against competition outside of his own teammates in camp will go a long way to determine if he makes the team out of necessity or because he can actually contribute.

June 11, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary (65) center Travis Frederick (70) and guard David Arkin (62) during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If I had to call it, I think the opening day line looks like this:

RT – Doug Free
RG – Mackenzy Bernadeau
C – Travis Frederick
LG – Ronald Leary
LT – Tyron Smith

Leary may win a long-term starting spot, especially if Bernadeau and Livings continue their injury issues.  It will be very interesting to see how Livings is able to bounce back from the set backs he has experienced or if Bernadeau can improve his play from last year, otherwise both could be gone after this year.

Ultimately, with the starting unit not really instilling confidence and the back up options being depleted by injury, the offensive line could be the sole reason that Dallas does not achieve the success they should this year.  Hopefully, the rash of injuries is behind us however and a few guys, either those paid handsomely or those young and hungry step up.  One thing is for sure, seeing Larry Allen go in to the Hall of Fame really reminded me that the security he provided was extremely appreciated and sorely missed at a time like this.