Leonard Davis is loose off the field, but needs to get rid of the stiffness on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys definitely saw mixed-results along the offensive line in 2010. While things were not as bad as many writers and fans believed - a close inspection of the offensive line stats and grades by our own OCC showed - there was a definite feeling that they had fallen off, that age and injury were starting to take its toll.
Much of the ire was directed at right tackle Marc Colombo, who never seemed to recover from injury early in the year, and his play has Cowboys fans rightly asking if he needs to be replaced in 2011. But there was another offensive lineman who had a mixed year, and actually got benched at one point in the season.
Leonard Davis came over to the Cowboys in a free-agent signing during the offseason of 2007. Davis had been a 2nd-overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals, and had spent years laboring with a team that was not good. This led many to wonder if Davis was a good player on a bad team, or whether he was just a serviceable lineman that was drafted way too high. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys took a gamble that signing Davis and installing him at right guard would maximize his talents. It seemed to work. His first few years in Dallas he was playing at a high level and even went to the Pro Bowl multiple times.
But like others on the team, e.g. Mike Jenkins, his 2010 season wasn't up to the level needed to move the franchise forward towards the ultimate goal of winning a world championship. His benching during the Titans loss was a warning sign to everyone, including Davis.
"No way can I make excuses for what I did on the field," Davis said. "There are expectations on me to go out and execute and do a job. I didn't do it. It was time for somebody else to go out and do the job."
Jason Jones gave Davis fits in the first quarter and his pressure helped lead to the pressure Tony Romo received. Romo was sacked six times Sunday with five coming in the first half before Davis was subbed.
"It just looked like Leonard struggled inside as a pass protector a couple of times with quick, early pressure and felt like it was time to put Montrae in and see if you could stabilize things," assistant head coach Jason Garrett said. "And he did. I thought he responded well to the opportunity and when Leonard went back in again he did the same. He responded to the situation. The pass protection got better as the game wore on."
Davis was eventually returned to the starting lineup for the rest of 2010, but it's rare for a starting offensive lineman to be benched during a game for extremely poor play. The right side of the Cowboys line was becoming a major issue.
So what happened to Davis last season? Why did his play drop-off to the point where he was actually benched? Position coach Hudson Houck lays it on the line.
"I've got to do a better job coaching because he does have potential. He's got good size. He can still run. We've got to get the bending issue solved. We've got to get some things solved."
That would be Houck's way of saying Davis played stiff at times last year.
"We have identified some of the weaknesses," Houck said. "We've also identified the strengths, so it's my job to get him playing better, so we'll address those weaknesses at this point, and get him playing better."
What's the verdict, BTB? Can Leonard "Bigg" Davis return to Pro Bowl form, or is that too big of a request at this point in his career?