Big But(t)s

What do you see when you look up and down the Dallas Cowboys' offensive roster? I can't speak for anyone else, but I see undeniable talent mixed in with limitless potential. It's safe to say, from a fan's standpoint, or from the standpoint of anyone remotely capable of recognizing talent, the Cowboys have a wealth of gifted players at the skill positions. For my purposes here, I'll use the recognized definition of "skill postions" to avoid confusion. And from what I understand, that is defined as pretty much any position on the field except linemen.

Personally, I always found that to be rather insulting to the beasties. To insinuate that skill is not needed to man the line on either side of the ball is ludicrous in it's consception. To make an argument that skill is not needed to play any position in any professional sport is ridiculous. But when it comes to the buffet-busters up front, I take a special kind of exception. You will be hard-pressed to find a group of guys who are more dedicated to their organization's success than linemen. They are generally among the hardest working, most intelligent and fanatically loyal members of any squad. They would have to embody all those characteristics to willingly endure the pounding and bone-crushing punishment that encompasses their daily lives. More than any other position, they rely on eachother for their success. And when they are successful, the team is successful.

I think that's what bothers me the most about the "skill position" label given to the rest of the guys on the field. Individually, or as a unit, they can have a bad day and another aspect of the team can step up and take control. If the recievers or quarterback falters, the running backs can always light it up and grind out a win. And vice versa. But when my guys up front pull a boner, there's not much anyone else can do to help. Even though they are part of a team, that team's ability to post a win relies more on the ton of flesh in the trenches than anything else. And to pull them aside, and seperate them from the smaller, flashier players because they aren't flinging the ball fifty yards downfield or making circus catches or running over linebackers on their way to the endzone, is a travesty.

I take as much pleasure from watching Tony Romo wing the pill to Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant as everyone. Feeling the crunch as DeMarco Murray shoulders his way through half the defense and hearing the rush of wind as Felix Jones blows past the other half, makes the hair on my bouncy bag stand on end. Those moments in a game are what brings all of us back each week. Those are the photos in time that build the memories we carry with us from game to game and into the off-season.

Right now, everyone of us is climbing the walls in anticipation of the 2012 season. But how many of that number are pining for a glimpse of a perfectly timed center sweep? How many are losing sleep with the thoughts of the ballot-like footwork of our tackles? When the ball is snapped, how many of us eschew the excitement of our skill guys to watch the slug-fest in the middle of the line? We might glance over there once in a while to make ourselves feel like we're doing them a favor, but in reality, we all want to watch the action and follow the ball. And that is truly a shame. Because by ignoring the contributions of the big men on the field, we're missing the real reason for our team's success or failure.

Now that I've expressed my undying love and admiration for the titans who drive the team forward, it's time to tear them apart...

Where do I begin? Anxiety...Frustration...Desperation...Am I getting warm? I believe the majority of us at BTB recognized the urgency to upgrade the offensive line this off-season. Our wish lists were bulging with pre-draft names such as David DeCastro, Peter Konz, Phillip Blake, Cordy Glenn, Kevin Zeitler and others. We waited and watched, sphincters puckering and unpuckering in anticipation. But, surprisingly---or not, depending on your pessimistic bent---not a single offensive lineman was taken. Most of us were confused by this blatant lack of interest in what was a major obstacle in our path to redemption. Why had Jason Garrett and the front office failed to address the issue?

Wait a minute. I apologize. I had forgotten they addressed the issue in Free Agency by acquiring Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau? Or as someone here on BTB so brilliantly coined them---Bernie and the Bengal. It sounds like a bad sitcom from the 70's. And to think I was worried.

I must admit, I had never heard of either of them. So, quite naturally, my scepticism was getting the better of me. But after digging for information, and absorbing what I could from the wise minds of our lead writers, I learned what I needed to know. And I felt justified in being sceptical. Both add size and strength to the line. Other than that...Well, your guess is as good as mine.

To be fair, it wouldn't be right to go further without mentioning the biggest addition to the offensive line---coach Bill Callahan. Like Bernie and the Bengal, I had never heard of him before he came to Dallas. By all accounts, he is a top-notch coach who brings a fresh perspective and impressive resume with him. And from what I understand, Coach Callahan was instrumental in the acquisition of the two aforementioned guards. While it would be easy to dismiss their signings as more nonsense from a FO that has missed the mark in years past, recent decisions and draft choices have given me a sense of hope in their ability to improve the team. So, in the case of Bernie and the Bengal, I'll withhold judgement until either one, or Coach Callahan, gives me a reason to change my mind.

An even more troubling position along the line is center. Phil Costa didn't win many popular contests with anyone last year. His performance on Monday night in Washington still causes me to wet the bed several times a week. The wife has taken to wearing a diver's wet suit for protection against my urinary eruptions. Granted, he seemingly improved enough as the season wore on to warrant at least the public trust of his coaches, but one has to remain concerned. Concerned not just for the stability of the line, but for the health and well-being of the franchise---Tony Romo.

Regrettably, Costa seems to be the only true center on the roster. Other candidates for his position---Bill Nagy, David Arkin, Kevin "Killer" Kowalski, UDFA Ronald Leary---are all back-up guards who may or may not have played center in the past. Seeing as how the center makes the calls and adjustments along the line, this should have been the one position taken seriously in the draft or FA. If Costa, or whoever winds up manning the spot, fails to bring his "A" game, I foresee more uncomfortably wet nights for the little woman.

Finally, the tackles---the strength of the O-line. Did I just say that? Last year I began to understand the irony in Doug Free's name. With the jack he's bringing home, that guy is anything but "free". It could be that Doug wasn't meant to play left tackle. Maybe he had a bad season. Or maybe his exceptional performance the previous year was a fluke. Whatever the explanation, Mr. Free had better figure it out. Getting whiffed and pancaked on a regular basis will have to stop. His ineptitude last year was above and beyond the boundaries of acceptability. Especially considering the hit he is delivering to the salary cap. It's time to earn your keep, my friend.

Our best offensive lineman is, undoubtably, Tyron Smith. It's a slap of reality when your stud on the line has a huge question mark on his back as well. While his talent and potential is above debate, the young man is being forced to play a position in which he has no experience. Left tackle is arguably the toughest and most demanding on the entire roster. When teams aspire to build a winner, left tackle is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Some will argue quarterback, and that's a valid point. But without a left tackle, your QB is a sitting duck and better be a quick healer. I have no doubt he'll be up to the task. There will more than likely be some growing pains in the process, but the kid is solid and should pull it out in the end.

As I stated earlier, I love these guys. They may, at times, turn our hair prematurly grey and drive the spouses to a divorce attorney, but when you see Romo pumping his fist after a score and DeMarco in the air, butt-bumping a teammate in the endzone, remember the working stiffs who got them there. Remember the yugglies who, as you watch the celebration, are taking a breather before lining up for the extra point. I still have reservations about the men we have protecting the "skill positions". But in spite of those doubts, I will always have the deepest respect for the sacrifices they make in an effort to make our Sundays a little more enjoyable...

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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