After another season of watching quarterback Tony Romo scrambling for his life, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones running into a phalanx of defenders at the line of scrimmage, and something like 116 false starts, most fans of the Dallas Cowboys are ready to see some new blood on the offensive line. Many are ready to argue quite heatedly that they want to see an offensive lineman taken in the first round. If not there, they expect one surely needs to be taken in the second, and the team should probably get another later in the draft.
These are people who may howl with dismay at the comments offensive coordinator/offensive line coach/maybe-kinda-play-caller-at-least-part-of-the-time Bill Callahan made about his players.
Callahan said Wednesday the line still has a long way to go, but he could see development throughout the season and he's content with the players he's working with, despite finishing 31st in the league in rushing.
"I like the guys that I have, so anything else in addition to, that's a bonus," Callahan said. "But the guys that I have, you walk into that room and you get motivated by their passion, by their toughness and what they go through on a daily basis."
It seems that the man in charge of this group thinks he has something to work with in the group of linemen already with the team. That means we may see more of players like Doug Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau, and Nate Livings, all of who came in for some pretty scathing criticism during the season. Most of the speculation to date has been about which of the current linemen will have to go, like this take on Free:
At times, Free was a nightmare to watch on the field. He was just a mess.
Can you trust him going forward?
But instead, Callahan is talking about the improvement he saw in the unit by the end of the season. This could be a hint that the team may have somewhat different priorities than we expect when we are working on our mock drafts.
Is Callahan just crazy? Or, maybe, is he just in agreement with our own OCC, who pointed out with his usual scintillating research that the problems along the O line last season were more due to the constant churn in who was starting. (If you haven't read the entire article, you really need to.)
The Cowboys entered the season expecting decent O-line play. Not great, not good, but okay. And the hope was that with some time together to develop continuity and with strong coaching, the unit could perhaps turn into a good line. But offseason and training camp injuries led to a lack of continuity that threw the entire line out of whack so badly that the Cowboys had to significantly alter their gameplans to account for the O-line's struggles for large parts of the season.
The line eventually overcame those issues, and played decently at the end of the season. Which leaves the Cowboys in a bit of a conundrum. If the bad line play was the result of poor individual play, then you'll probably have to bring in players with better individual skills. But if the bad line play was the result of constant personnel changes, then new personnel may not be the answer. Unfortunately, there is no way to plan for O-line continuity.
So maybe Callahan is not just talking nonsense. Remember, OCC did not write his article in response to Callahan's comments. He made the argument more than a full day before the round of press conferences with the Dallas assistant coaches. And his was not the first BTB post this offseason about how the Cowboys would have to use existing players to man most of the offensive line next year. An earlier, less well-written, more sarcastic, and much more poorly researched post here made a similar argument.
That means that the foundation for the offensive line of 2013 is going to be constructed using the roster of 2012. It cannot be avoided. Hiding under your bed with your blankie is not going to change that rather ugly fact.
By the end of the season, the Cowboys had 11 offensive line players on the roster. Under the most optimistic scenarios regarding new player acquisition, you have to figure that at least seven will be part of the team to start next season. It is entirely possible that the entire starting offensive line will be composed of players we all know and love already.
This development actually fits perfectly with what is going on right now with Dallas. There are major differences in the way the team, and particularly the three men at the top of the organization (Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett) see things, and the way outsiders, particularly writers for the Dallas-area media, think they should see it. Callahan just added one more to the long list of things that can be criticized and pointed out as reasons the Cowboys are doomed to another year of futility.
But if you look at what OCC put together so well, there are very legitimate reasons for Callahan to take his stance. Furthermore, the Cowboys are not failing to take any steps to improve things. New assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack is just now getting his feet on the ground at Valley Ranch (his job is not even fully defined yet), and he may either offer a different view, or bring some more tools to help fix things.
What is clear, at least to some of us, is that we don't know as much as we sometimes think we know. There still is a good chance that the Cowboys will draft some O line talent, if for no other reason that the draft is deep there and the team stands a good chance of having a tackle or guard at the top of their board when it's time to go to the podium. But this may not be the burning issue for the team that it is for the fans out here. Just be ready to see things go in a different direction than you are expecting, along the offensive line, or just about anywhere else.