At the Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, one of the most closely watched units on the field is going to be the offensive line. This has long been seen as the key to keeping Tony Romo healthy, allowing him enough time to find his receivers, and reviving the moribund rushing game.
Well, while there is a lot of speculation, there is always room for more. Here is my prediction for how this is going to shape out. I think I know who four of the starters are going to be, and also who will wind up as backups.
Tyron is good, and Free will be good enough. Tyron Smith is acknowledged as the best of the offensive linemen, and no one is worried about his job at left tackle. Doug Free will show enough in camp to keep his job at right tackle. This will not set well with many here, but because of what happens in the interior of the line, the team needs his experience, and I think he will fend off Jermey Parnell, who will once again be the swing tackle. Although the team might carry one more if someone emerges in camp, I would look more for the team to try to stash Darrion Weems or Edawn Coughman on the practice squad, based on who looks the best. This is, I think, pretty straightforward. Now for the fun.
Believe in the Beard. Travis Frederick will start. He was the first round pick. Reports so far are that he is perfectly capable of handling the line calls. This man will be on the line - somewhere.
They are not leery of Leary. Ronald Leary got his opportunity in OTAs and the minicamp, and he capitalized on it. He is going to beat out one of the guards from last year. Speaking of which . . .
Something's got to give. That is four of the starting linemen. The fifth one is the only one I am not ready to call at this point. It is either going to be Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau - or Phil Costa.
Most are ready to anoint Frederick as the starting center, but it is possible that the best lineup for the Cowboys would be Smith/Leary/Costa/Frederick/Free. This puts experience on both sides of the two new guys. And it is possible that Frederick, who is often praised for his knowledge and ability to make those line calls, could do so from the guard position, which has been done before by the Cowboys, I believe. If I recall correctly, Kyle Kosier used to handle the line calls when Andre Gurode was center.
Further, Costa is not going to go without a fight now that he is healthy. And if he is doing better than Frederick due to his experience the team may well judge it is more valuable to put him and Frederick both in the starting lineup. Frederick did play guard in college as well, and he also has longer arms.
If Costa does not beat out Frederick at center, then he will be the backup center, and Livings and Bernadeau will battle it out for the last spot. I have my money on Bernadeau. I know Livings would represent a cap cost of $2,763,750 if cut (and Bernadeau would cost $1,933,333), but I also think that is one reason the Cowboys are holding onto some cap space right now. I think they want to have room to make the cut if it is needed, and can do so and still get a deal done to extend Sean Lee. Don't forget they just picked up $1,200,000 by cutting Lawrence Vickers (which some of us had been predicting here for months). I don't think they would cut both Livings and Bernadeau, and I think the younger Bernadeau will have a better showing in camp and either keep his starting job or become a backup due to his ability to play both guard and center. But I am not quite certain about that. So, the interior line will be either Leary/Frederick/Bernadeau, or Livings/Frederick/Leary with Costa out of the starting lineup. That does put the two newest guys next to each other, which is why I think the first lineup I listed with Costa at center is very much in play.
So that gives the Cowboys Frederick, Leary, Costa and either Livings or (most likely) Bernadeau, plus the three tackles. That's seven linemen, and I think Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin also stick as backups, for a total of nine offensive linemen.
That is how I see the O line stacking up. In a few weeks we will know if I was perceptive or just wrong. Feel free to mack away if it is the latter - but I like my chances. What do you think?
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