Perhaps a more luxurious question facing the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 is whether or not recently signed rookie free agent offensive lineman La’el Collins will actually earn a starting role. I stress the term luxury, in this case, because it’s not like there’s a crying need for a starting offensive lineman in Dallas, right?
This question also offers intrigue because Collins joins a current offensive line that’s rather loaded with young, blue chip talent at most positions.
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Having said that, there are two spots that could end up being occupied by Collins this coming season.
With three young Pro Bowl-caliber players in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin, the Cowboys appear to be set. At the very least, Smith and Frederick appear to be locked into their current positions based strictly on both experience and importance.
Martin, also a tackle in college, wouldn’t appear to be a player that Dallas would be interested in moving in just his second year. I think the Cowboys learned some tough lessons after playing “musical chairs” at tackle with Smith and Doug Free for a few years not long ago. Martin should remain at guard, but which one?
Then again, Collins fits a similar profile than the one that Martin toted just over a year ago. You could basically describe Martin and Collins as offensive line “tweeners.” Both players guarded the edge as amateurs but both might end up sliding inside.
First things’ first; how good is Collins when compared to the rest of the offensive line. Being a rookie certainly suggests that there’s going to be a learning curve that might just keep him in a “sixth man” role this coming season.
However, it’s not exactly a reach to suspect that Collins might end up forcing head coach Jason Garrett to put him on the field.
The Cowboys immediately placed each of their three Pro Bowl offensive linemen on the field in starter roles as rookies. It’s not like they have any fear of this philosophy given their recent history and success with this philosophy.
So, where might Collins end up on the field?
Well, I find it unlikely that right tackle Doug Free is beaten out by any rookie. The health of quarterback Tony Romo is just too important to play with, at this point anyway. It’s not like the 13-year veteran hasn’t had more than his share of injuries and surgeries in recent times.
But the position to watch for, concerning Collins, is left guard, currently manned by fourth-year veteran Ron Leary.
Leary was a high-priority undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft and was starting by 2013. Just last season Leary helped shut down defensive player of the year J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and also helped construct the greatest rushing season for a Dallas running back – ever.
Think about that for a minute.
Beyond a degenerative knee condition that some feel could reduce Leary’s time in the NFL, the former Memphis blocker has been a key part of Dallas’ resurgence as a functional offense, one that’s believed to be capable of catapulting the Cowboys deep into the NFC playoffs in ’15.
Leary was only undrafted because of his medical concerns, otherwise the Cowboys had a mid-round grade on him. This is why owner and general manager Jerry Jones went out of his way to lure Leary to the Cowboys, much the same way he did with Collins last week.
Leary enters a contract year this season and he’ll have perhaps more competition to keep his job than expected.
Or perhaps Collins ends being needed elsewhere because of unforeseen factors, like injuries, suspensions, etc. In Dallas you just never know what’s lurking around the corner.
One way or another, Collins will certainly have the chance to join the best offensive line in the NFL as a mere rookie. Had he actually been drafted by another team, as early as the first round, as many expected, there would be little question as to whether or not the former LSU lineman would be playing right away.
In this case, Collins may very well have to wait – again.
It does seem like that wait will be rather short, however.