Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line: The Beauty in Being “Ugly”

Despite bringing back three on the offensive line from last year’s Pro Bowl, this is not the best the Dallas Cowboys have ever had. The 1995 squad had four.

With all of the praise and high hopes that are surrounding the Dallas Cowboys this season, it must be tempered with a little cautiousness. Sure, we have seen first-round draft pick running back Ezekiel Elliott fearlessly run through opposing tacklers. We have also been pleasantly surprised with the poised play of fellow rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Even newly-acquired veteran runner Alfred Morris has shown the same promise he had when he played in our nation’s capital. None of this would be possible without the outstanding play of our “Big Uglies,” the best offensive line in football.

I grew up watching football with my older brother, Marc. He played offensive line in high school and coached line play while in college at Western Kentucky University. He taught me to look at football from the inside out, meaning from the center outward. Many look from the receivers inward to read the play.

For those on the line, it is more important to check for stunting defensemen, gap blitzes and linebacker movement. From here, along with the play called in the huddle, the line quickly determines the best protection for the signal caller. This is not the first time the Cowboys have had such a dominant line. Regardless of this squad’s talent, there have been none quite like the Super Bowl XXX Champions, in 1995.

Despite bringing back three linemen from last year’s Pro Bowl, this is not the best Dallas has ever had. The 1995 squad had four.

We, as fans, are pinning the hopes of another Super Bowl season on a couple of rookies. If Dallas did not have such a dominant offensive line, we would be foolish to do so. Our guys in the trenches are big, smart, powerful and simply the best in the game. Promoted last year, offensive line coach Frank Pollack has done a fantastic job with the line.

In 2015, it led to three Pro Bowl nominations; center Travis Frederick, guard Zack Martin and tackle Tyron Smith. These guys, along with guard Ronald Leary and tackle Doug Free, look to once again be the best line in the business.

As good as these guys were, the 1995 squad was an All-Time team. After Dallas’ legendary center Mark Stepnoski left for the Houston Oilers, (how weird is that to say?) Dallas replaced him with six-time Pro Bowler Ray Donaldson. Tackle Mark Tuinei won his second consecutive Pro Bowl bid.

Guard Nate Newton won his third of six Pro Bowl nominations, as well. With all of this power on the line, there was none like then rookie, now Hall of Fame guard, Larry Allen. It was behind his strength that beloved running back Emmitt Smith ran for 1,773 yards and broke the single-season record of 25 rushing touchdowns.

That monstrous line did its best work when they  protected Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. Despite allowing 14 sacks (none to Larry Allen‘s side), Aikman threw for 3,304 yards and 16 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 93.6. These numbers sound tame compared to today, but remember this was a running league. Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees had not entered the NFL yet, so the only 5,000 yard passing season was Miami Dolphin great Dan Marino back in 1984.

These “Big Uglies” took great pride in creating holes for the running game and keeping the quarterbacks’ jersey clean. Today’s squad does the same.

While the 1995 squad averaged roughly 6’3″ and 318 pounds, so does this year’s line. The difference is that defensive players then were much smaller than they are today, so that Dallas line was considered immense.

Today’s squad is faster and has comparable footwork to their past brethren, but this years’ team excels is in technique. Pollack, who worked under the best line coach in the NFL, Bill Callahan until 2014, has continued to improve their blocking skills. Assistant offensive line coach Marc Colombo, a fantastic lineman in his own right, is doing a great job as well. He is going to make sure our ‘Boys take pride in imposing their will and being the nastiest line in the game.

I also played high school football, mainly on the line. There is nothing like pushing someone around. It was more fun when you could plant them flat on their backs. It makes some giggle; some pump their fists; others dance.

Back then, however, I wanted to be Emmitt Smith, not Larry Allen, so I didn’t work at it like I should. I regret that. I only lasted two years before I decided cheerleading would be a better gig for me (true story). These guys don’t have that option. So be thankful they love their job, are and the best as it. That, my friends, is truly beautiful.

Besides, the O-Line would look terrible with pom-poms and hot pants.