Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Battles: The Young Offensive Line

The new CBA has brought with it an opportunity for all the young offensive linemen on the Dallas Cowboys roster - wait, when was the last time you could say that? The young offensive linemen on the Cowboys roster have hit the ground running and are getting a lot of reps and attention from the coaches. With Doug Free and Kyle Kosier unable to participate until August 4th and Andre Gurode rehabbing a simple scope, rookie and sophomore linemen are getting 1st-team reps against the defense. In this situation, you either hear a lot of terrible news of linemen getting eaten up by DeMarcus Ware and the rest of Rob Ryan's gang, or you start hearing about the young guys holding their own...and thinking there is some talent on the field that could be ready to play sooner than expected.

Scout turned journalist, Bryan Broaddus had this to say over the weekend.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

Cowboys scouts have to love this Young, Arkin, Nagy and Smith were the OL in on that last play. Good work against a DC that is bringing it.

Sam Young, David Arkin, Phil Costa, Bill Nagy, and Tyron Smith are getting a lot of reps at training camp. The idea of starting a season with these five young guys would make most cringe, but having the opportunity to get rookies acclimated quickly and having time for the coaches to assess everyone's strengths, weaknesses, and current level of play is paramount. It could mean the difference between spending more of the dwindling cap space money on veteran linemen, and investing it in an additional safety signing (though there is plenty in-house to see before making a decision there as well).

Montrae Holland is the assumed starting guard opposite Kosier, but he is being pushed by both the coaches and the new guys. The Cowboys actually have competition for starting spots on the offensive line for the first time in...how many years? Even the top 10 pick and assumed starter is getting a run for his money as the role of the swing tackle in case of injury. There is competition all along the offensive line!

Interior Line

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

Good reps by Arkin and Young back to back. Both with good sets then punch. Able to control rushers.

In fact, when BTB's Rabblerousr asked Broaddus if Arkin had a shot to start at some point this season Bryan responded...

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

@rabblerousr There is plenty to like about Arkin and every rep he gets in practice against Rat and these veteran linebackers will help.

Bryan Broadduas was kind enough to answer my question as well, and he provided his take on Phil Costa and what he has shown in training camp thus far.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

@KegbearerBTB Not bad..working well with the other young OL men. Personally, I just wish he was bigger but no question of toughness + effort

Now, most will admit that Holland appears to be the leader for the starting guard spot, but if Arkin continues to display toughness and progress, not to mention the agility demanded by a mobile linemen to pull on counters and lead on screen plays...

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

@g0osemahh Right now I think they will stick with Holland but he needs to try and improve his conditioning.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

Watching Holland in space on the screen reminds me of a cruise ship trying to get out of the harbour.

@espn_macmahonTim MacMahon

Montrae Holland isn't exactly built to get out in front on a screen pass.

The young offensive linemen continued to hold their own as the weekend progressed. So, considering some of Holland's wrinkles, I think Arkin has a real shot at fighting for a starting role. In any case, the competition for starting guard should be a fun one to watch develop in camp. If both Holland and Arkin continue to improve, and Nagy and Costa continue to show a tough side, the anticipated free agent signing for the interior o-line may never materialize.

The Tackles

Re-signing Doug Free to a four year contract was a well executed offseason priority. He will be a driving force on the line of scrimmage. But an offensive line needs more than just one capable tackle on the roster and it looks like the Cowboys may have the greatest depth at the position in years. More good news tweets from the San Antonio practices.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

watching these young OTs in this 2 minute drill, so far no major problems against Ware and Spencer...good sign

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

@ABXXV25 Young with a nice job of sealing the edge in the 9 on 7 drill. Got some push at the point, Jones bounces behind him.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

@Cowboys4lyfe its one practice and one day but it was good to see Young have some good reps. Right now he is the swing OT.

It appears Young did replace Alex Barron on the depth chart in late 2010 for a reason, and he continues to show impressive play at practices. Right now most of the praise is for his run blocking skills, but he appears to be holding his own against the pass rush as well. Tyron Smith is learning his lessons against speed NFL rushers, and not everything is roses, but the staff is diligently working on the problems. These are young guys learning to play against the best in the NFL and they should get plenty of knowledge from veteran offensive line coach Hudson Houck and other team leaders.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

Wrote about Tyron Smith needing to get out of his stance quicker. This morning Houck drilled him rep after rep to get feet quicker.

@espn_macmahonTim MacMahon

DeMarcus Ware has been working 1-on-1 with Tyron Smith since practice ended. Focus on footwork. That's a big ant he's leading to picnic.

@toddarcherTodd Archer

After struggling with their exchanges Sunday Jon Kitna and Bill Nagy taking extra work this AM.

It also appears that Coach Garrett's concentration on details and "approaching things the right way" is also making the line play better, some may say smarter, as a unit. This cohesion is what will make the difference between a spotty o-line with talent but mental errors and missed blocking assignments, and an effective o-line working as a unit to take over the line of scrimmage. Some signs are already showing improvement, even with the young guys on the field. And improvements from early work have already appeared.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

Romo using the hard count to trying to keep Ryan's defense from blitzing him to death. OL is holding in there not pulling a Flozell Adams.

@BryanBroaddusBryan Broaddus

Smith much quicker out of his stance against Brandon Williams. Punch, set, no contest on two reps.

Right now the most likely starting five on the Cowboys offensive line would be Free - Kosier - Gurode - Holland - Smith, and the leading backups would be Young - Arkin - Costa. And reports from training camp are making the notion of this eight-man game-day group seem far better than once expected. As the coaches continue to have time with the young guys before some of the veterans begin to practice, the offensive line could be the youngest and feisty group to walk the halls of Valley Ranch in quite some time. There could even be another veteran signing to add some depth. I would be hard pressed to say the Cowboys offensive line hasn't finally been saved from a life on the brink. Sure, there will be some growing pains, but fresh lifeblood has been pumped into this offensive unit.   

Broaddus' Scout's Eye piece caps off the good news as the team has put on pads and the real ability of a line is on exhibition.

Since Jason Garrett put the pads on the players on Saturday, Sam YoungTyron Smith and David Arkin have been much more productive than when the team was just working in shells. In the 9-on-7 drill, which is all running and an advantage for the defense, this group was able to get push at the point of attack, allowing the backs to make simple reads attacking holes and creases. 

Another example of this group's work was in the specialty period when Garrett had the offense working with limited time and trying to work the ball into field goal range. Young and Smith were left to deal with Ware and Spencer rushing off the edge. Both were able to hold their ground, play technique and not allow any type of pressure on Tony Romo. In this situation, pressure or a sack equals failure and neither surrendered. 

It sounds like the Cowboys offensive line will not be a liability in the run game this year. That is good news, considering an effective passing game has become a standard in Garrett's offenses. If the offensive line allows Garrett to run his offense without having to cater to the abilities of the offensive line, without having to telegraph whether it will be a run or a pass, without having to shackle receiving threats to blocking assignments, without having to worry about allowing deep routes to develop or which direction to run, this will become a most formidable offense. And it seems Garrett is putting together a young offensive line that should be up to the task.

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