Feb 22, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; University of Michigan Wolverines offensive lineman Taylor Lewan runs the 40 yard dash during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine was in full-swing this past weekend. Many consider it the “underwear Olympics,” that is, grown men running around in spandex getting measured on everything from their IQ’s to how far they can jump. However, the value of the combine is significant to NFL teams, and what I saw from the offensive line draft prospects was especially exciting.
Five offensive lineman, or players who stand above 6 feet tall weighing over 300 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan who stands at 6-foot-7 inches weighing 309 pounds ran the fastest 40 time of all offensive linemen at 4.87 seconds. On top of his speed and obvious power, Lewan plays with a nasty demeanor. To the average defender it’s like a freight train barreling towards him at high-speed with a nasty attitude.
This offensive line class looks to be perhaps one of the most athletic the NFL has ever seen. The combination of size and speed has to have new Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan licking his chops at the possibilities. Back in January I wrote in this article the following about Linehan’s scheme:
The way that Linehan likes to describe his play-calling philosophy is “aggressively taking what the defense gives him.” He employs a similar Coryell Offense attack to Jason Garrett’s, so the style is a good fit. Linehan’s scheme is a more protection-based, quarterback friendly one employing greater play-action than the Cowboys used last season. Linehan’s offense also gives quarterback Tony Romo freedom to call audibles when he sees the defensive alignment, or Romo can go no-huddle to mess up the defense’s timing.
The Cowboys employed a primarily man-blocking scheme with some zone-blocking thrown in last season. However, I believe Dallas will move to an almost exclusive “power” man-blocking scheme, running up the middle establishing the run first to set up the pass next season. In studying Linehan’s tendencies with the Lions, Cowboys fans should expect to see the standard Coryell offense with a base I-Formation and Pro Set in obvious running downs, and the quarterback in a shotgun formation with multiple wide receivers in passing situations.
Linehan loves to start from a very simple base formation, and then add a presnap motion to throw off the defense, while utterly confusing opponents with exotic route combinations. All designed to allow for the classic Coryell style simple number-scheme while giving Tony Romo the quick release options which he is so good at.
This is all important context because I believe with the abysmal running game the Cowboys had last year, every offensive line position could stand to be upgraded, with the exception of left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick. Both of those players are two of the best in the league at what they do, and Frederick should only get better with another year under his belt.
In a man blocking scheme, the left guard must be quick and athletic as he is asked to pull more often than any other lineman. Additionally, the right guard and right tackle in a power scheme must be superior run blockers first. While the line itself did a decent job last year, left guard Ron Leary is no athletic phenom, right guard Mackenzie Bernardeau is not a road-grader type right guard, and right tackle Doug Free is certainly not at his core a run blocker.
I believe the Cowboys can easily pick themselves up a far more athletic pulling left guard, and a run mauling right guard and right tackle via this year’s draft. This is a deep enough offensive line class that all three of those positions can and should be addressed by the Cowboys this year.
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