Reach back in your mind and picture Flozell Adams. Oh, come on, it's not that hard or painful. Profile his game. What did you see?
On the strength side, I saw a guy who could run block from the minute he joined the team until the minute he left Valley Ranch. If there's one area where I feel Doug Free represents an almost certain downgrade next season, it's run blocking on off-tackle calls. The Cowboys have not been a straight-ahead power team in recent years, but Flozell tried. The '09 Cowboys ranked 4th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards category for runs behind left tackle and 5th on runs wide of Adams, a testament to his power and the Cowboys' tight ends' effectiveness as edge blockers.
The combination of Doug Free and Marc Colombo didn't embarrass themselves, but they didn't push to Flozell's level either. They were middle of the pack on runs off right tackle.
On the downside, the '09 Adams showed us a tackle who could no longer ride speed rushers around the edge on a consistent basis. He was slow to recover on stunts and began taking personal foul flags in addition to his off-sides. Dallas had been able to tolerate his five-yard flags as the price for his effective pass protection and run blocking, but the cons pulled past Flozell's good points last season.
Keep Flozell Adams' game in mind when you contemplate what the Cowboys may gain in adding Alex Barron to their roster. Barron's profile reads like a younger Adams, in his positives and negatives. As such, he offers Hudson Houck the type of low-risk, high-reward challenge a top line coach can turn to his team's benefit.
Barron entered the league as one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects of the star-crossed '05 draft. He displayed uncommon physical skills, including a 37.5 inch arms and a 90 inch wingspan. Pro Football Weekly's Draft Preview rated him 2nd among O-linemen that season, just ahead of eventual Saint Jamaal Brown, and remarked that Barron was, "the most athletic left tackle some scouts have seen in the last ten years." On the down side, he was noted as a player who relied too much on his athleticism and who needed to improve his power. Barron was forecast to perform best for a winning team which could groom him behind veterans.
The '05 Rams at first appeared to be a decent place for Barron. He played the right tackle bookend to Orlando Pace on Mike Martz' last version of "The Greatest Show on Turf." The problem was that Martz's offense had grown old, and consequently the Wizard had lost his magic. Martz was fired a month into Barron's rookie season, starting a continuing spiral for the Rams organization.
The following year, Barron made an unplanned shift to left tackle when Pace injured a shoulder. Barron jumped back and forth between left and right tackle while Pace tried to regain his place. Barron finally returned to left tackle in '09, when rookie Jason Smith was plugged in at right tackle. Barron played erratically on pass plays, taking a lot of penalties, but in Flozell-style, did not allow a lot of sacks.
I have not found much data on his pass blocking, but he gave up a very respectable 2.5 sacks in '07, when he was the lone member of the line to put in a full season. Unlike Flozell, he doesn't have deafness in one ear to hinder his hearing snap counts.
Unlike Flozell, he can't point to deafness in one year as an excuse for his copious off-sides penalties.
Barron nonetheless offers some intriguing numbers which again remind of Adams. Here are the '09 Rams adjusted line yards for rushing plays:
Note how much better the Rams ran behind Barron than behind anybody else. That 5.27 average was better than Adams', and suggests that Barron, if he can somehow be focused on the game at hand, could provide effective play at either tackle position.
It's hard to say if Houck can succeed. The fire has burned cool white in Barron thus far and may never intensify. Nonetheless, NFL coaches rely on size, speed and athleticism. Intelligence and instincts help, but won't overcome serious physical limitations.
Barron has no such limitations. Considering that he was obtained for Bobby Carpenter's contract, we have to rate him in relation to draft picks the Cowboys could have obtained in 4th or 5th rounds. Does anybody doubt that Barron rates as a better prospect than the names you have on those charts?
Barron looks like a poor man's Flozell Adams, and given his youth (he'll turn 28 in September) and durability he gives Hudson Houck and the Cowboys an intriguing option. At best, he could be a baby Flo, a tremendous bargain from the NFL's remainders bin. At worst, he'll reinforce the notion that Flozell never left.
If the results are somewhere in between, the Cowboys have still helped themselves, if only incrementally so.