Conventional wisdom says Cowboys' First Round Pick Travis Frederick should play Center in 2013. Below are several reasons why he should actually be manning the Right Guard spot.
Frederick's skill set is best used at RG
Travis Frederick is an absolute mauler. He is a massive lineman who posses elite strength, and can more than hold his own at the point of attack. In short, he is not going to be pushed back by many NFL defensive linemen. However, his athleticism is a limitation. He is not very good at pulling, moving to the second level (in a timely manner), or handling finesse linemen in space. As a result, the Cowboys should be lining Frederick up against 34 NTs and 43 1-Technique DTs, as opposed to 34 DEs and 43 3-Technique DTs. When playing against a 43 Defense, the 1-Tech DT (the bigger, more powerful of the two DTs) lines up between the Right Guard and Center, who typically need to work together, and combine their strength to block him. Because Frederick has excellent strength, he should be able to take on 1-Tech DTs by himself at RG, and free up the Center to help out the Left Guard, or handle other blocking assignments. Against a traditional 34 Defense (Patriots/Steelers/Cowboys/Ravens model), offensive lines typically assume the LOLB (almost always the better rusher) is blitzing, and they shift their protection Left to accommodate. The LT handles the LOLB, the LG takes on the LDE, the C and RG block the NT, and the RT handles the RDE (The ROLB is not an every down pass rusher is most 34 models). With Frederick's raw physical strength, he could handle a NT 1-on-1 from the RG position, and again free up the Center to aid the LG and handle other blocking assignments. Not having to double team NTs and 1-Techs will have a trickle down effect on any OL. The now free Center can help double team a dangerous pass rusher, get in the way of stunts, or block next-level defenders.
Phil Costa can succeed at Center
Despite BTB's general feelings about Jerry the GM, he was right to say that C Phil Costa can be an effective Center if surrounded by good Guards. Phil Costa's biggest weakness is his lack of strength, and his inability to hold his own on 1-on-1 against powerful D-linemen. However, he can be effective in a sort-of "supporting" role, where he is blocking extra pass rushers ( DBs, ILBs), helping Guards finish off their 1-on-1 blocks, and moving to handle second level defenders. Costa demonstrated this in his lone healthy game, against Baltimore in Week 6. That week, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings play uncharacteristically well, and overpowered the Baltimore Defense Line for the entire game. Thanks to their play, Costa was free to consistently get to the second level, and pave the way for huge running gains (He was good in pass protection as well, helping finish blocks, and handling occasional 1-on-1 pass rush matchups). If Costa is flanked by Ronald Leary and Travis Frederick, two phenomenally strong Guards, then he can be effective as a "supporting" center for 16 games. Additionally, Costa can surely handle the mental aspects of playing Center. He is smart, and now well experienced in Callahan's system. But if not, there is no reason Frederick cannot call the protections from RG.
Doug Free has not turned in a good season since his stellar 2010. Nothing has changed since then, other than the quality of Guards next to him. Kyle Kosier may not have been a superstar, but he was a smart, savy veteran who could hold his own on the field. Like he did for Tyron Smith in 2011, Kosier in 2010 used his football smarts to mentor Free, provide in game coaching, and point out blitzes and defensive tip-offs at the Line. Additionally, Kosier was a decent blocker, able to hold his own, not get pushed into Doug Free, and even provide help. Like Kosier, Frederick is very football smart, and even real-life smart (Engineering Major at Wisconsin). He can help Free with pre-snap reads, and may even be able to offer some advice. When actually blocking, Free will never have to worry about Frederick being pushed into him, and Frederick will even be able to help Free from time to time. At Wisconsin, Frederick would occasionally handle his own block with his body and one arm, while using his other arm to help the blocker next him for a split second. With any luck, we should see the 2010 Free again if Frederick is at RG.
Travis Frederick at RG can make Livings expendable
Placing Frederick at Guard on the depth chart should kick someone out. That could be the incredibly overpaid Nate Livings. While the Cowboys would have to eat a $3.8 Million hit this year, they would have cap savings of $3.4 Million in 2014, $4.4 Million in 2015, and $4.75 Million in 2016. Considering the Cowboys current projected cap deficits, this might be a smart move. However, the Cowboys would have to have faith in guys like Ryan Cook and David Arkin as backups to be able to cut Livings. This one would be probably be determined at the final wave of cuts.
What do you think? Should Frederick play at C? RG? LG? How do you think the Line should shake out? Tell us in the comments below!