Last offseason, the Dallas Cowboys started their remodeling project along the offensive line. Aging veterans were jettisoned, young players were given their chance. Even though it didn't all go according to plan, it at least seemed like a plan, one Jason Garrett was willing to follow. The one very bright spot in that plan was the addition of Tyron Smith. The ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft was just what the doctor ordered for the Cowboys, playing like an accomplished veteran in his rookie season. That was at right tackle. Now, the Cowboys are asking him to take over at left tackle, the premier position on the offensive line. The approach on that side is a little different, but Smith thinks he's already prepared for the transition.
"I’ve always prepared for it, switching sides, working on both stances every day," Smith said at the Cowboys’ annual golf outing. "It’s just all about knowing what’s happening on the other side and knowing what you have to do."
Jason Garrett echoes the same theme:
"The stance is different. Just the angles of things will be a little bit different for him, but he’s a very good athlete," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He’s a serious, conscientious guy, so he works very hard at it. He’s one of those young guys who go about it the right way, he has the right approach and he has ability, so you see him grow really on a daily basis. It’s fun to see him out on the practice field now."
Watching Smith play last year, this is the one position that I have the most confidence in going into 2012. Last year, though, I thought much the same about Doug Free. His transition from right tackle to left tackle bottomed-out in 2011 when he turned in a surprisingly bad season. With Smith coming to the left side, Free has to make the transition back to the right.
"It’s mainly just thinking everything different, opposite, just kind of getting settled over there, used to how everything is called," he said. "Instead of being on one side, you’re on the other. But getting this time to get used to it is definitely a positive."
The hope is that Free will once again become a consistent force back on the right side. But the position switches by these two are probably the least of the Cowboys worries along the offensive line. We all know the struggles in the interior. The prime example is center Phil Costa. Even though he seemed to improve as the season wore on, he's still a huge question mark. One way he's trying to improve? Watching film of Nick Manggold.
Cowboys center Phil Costa said he is watching a lot of tape of New York Jets center Nick Mangold. That is the model for Costa as he works under new Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who helped develop Mangold into a Pro Bowl player. "I’ve watched tons of tape of Mangold," Costa said Wednesday at Cowboys Golf Club, where he was set to play in the Cowboys’ annual sponsor appreciation golf tournament. "It’s fun to watch him. He does all the calls that we are using now. Watching him on the field and how he applies them and his technique. He’s a great player, so it’s fun to watch him on tape."
The consensus, however, is that Costa did improve as the year went along, as a full season of experience is helpful for any young player.
"Definitely," Costa said. "From week to week and from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, just what you can feel and knowing the defense, seeing the position of the Mike linebacker, what kind of blitz they're coming with, it does change it, for sure."
If Costa is getting it done in training camp and pre-season, the Cowboys could turn to new free-agent signee Mackenzy Bernadeau.
The Cowboys will try to field the best possible starting five on the offensive line, though, and the position flexibility of veteran signee Mackenzy Bernadeau could become a consideration if there is a logjam at guard.
"He's played center," said Bill Callahan, the Cowboys' new offensive line coach who came over from the Jets this offseason. "That's one of the things we asked him and one of the things we knew about him. He played some center in the preseason with Carolina, so he's been exposed to that spot, he's got that position flex, so that's a real plus. Yeah, he has that in him. I haven't seen it as of late, but he did serve as a backup center for them in kind of emergency situations."
Bernadeau is slated to be at guard, but Jason Garrett wants competition and will go with the best guys he can find.
And finally, rounding out year two of the Cowboys project on the offensive line is Nate Livings. We've seen some negative reports on Livings, and plenty of Bengals fans were not sorry to see him go. But Bryan Broaddus seems a little more optimistic, he has a full review here. A brief snippet.
There is nothing smooth or pretty about his game, but you do see him fight to finish blocks. He is a stalemate blocker in the running game. He fights to make the cut-off blocks and will work to get to the second level. If he did have some struggles in the running game, it was when he was asked to pull. He wasn't the quickest when he did it, but he also had a couple plays where he was a "one shot" blocker. I thought he needed to do a better job, once he located the target, to hit and try to secure his man.
Plenty of moving parts, plenty of new guys, lots of work still to be done. But Jason Garrett and the Cowboys have a plan to remodel their offensive line, year two of that project is at hand.