There is an old saying in the NFL: You can't make the team if you are in the tub. If you are unfamiliar with it, it means that if you are nursing an injury, you are likely to lose your spot on the roster to someone who is actually out there practicing.
For the Dallas Cowboys, there might be a somewhat different version that could apply: You can't field a team when the players can't stay on the field. The Cowboys have seen, again, the offensive linemen falling like dominoes. This happened in 2012, and the difficulty in getting and keeping some players on the field is once again affecting the way the team handles this crucial part of the team. Almost everyone agrees that Dallas needs better play from the offensive line in order to break out of the .500 doldrums they have been mired in the past two seasons. But right now, they are having trouble keeping enough linemen healthy to practice, much less figure out who the starters and backups will be.
With the first preseason game still to come, the team has short-term and long-term issues to deal with. The short-term problem right now is having people to practice and play in the Hall of Fame game against the Miami Dolphins without wearing out the few healthy bodies you still have. As OCC tabulated earlier, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Kevin Kowalski, Ryan Cook and Ray Dominguez are all not available. No mater who you want to see as the starting linemen, it looks like Ronald Leary (who has missed time himself), Travis Frederick, and David Arkin will be lining up, with Phil Costa the sole healthy backup.
The short-term solution, or at least the first part of it, has been put in place, per Brandon George in the Dallas Morning News.
The Dallas Cowboys cut injured defensive end Cameron Sheffield and cornerback Devin Smith, the former Coppell standout, on Thursday and signed TCU offensive guard Jeff Olson and UT-El Paso offensive tackle James Nelson.
While the team was hoping to get some more bodies to work in the interior line, that may have been a short-lived hope.
Jeff Olson now being helped off the field. Hatcher went over the top of him and took a blow to the face. Not moving well now.— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) August 2, 2013
(Broaddus later clarified it was Olson getting helped off the field, not Jason Hatcher. Hatcher was the one delivering the hurt.) This does seem to bear out the proven scientific principle that feces will inevitably occur.
The team is also shuffling the few remaining healthy bodies around.
Blue practice....Arkin getting work at center and Coughman back at right guard.— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) August 1, 2013
What the team has not done is sign a more costly veteran lineman to bring in . . . yet. The team may still be looking at options, but the priority right now is to get someone who can suit up and take the reps, however they can do that.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said team will keep all options open when asked directly about interest in veteran guard Brian Waters.— Nick Eatman (@nickeatman) August 2, 2013
The longer-term issue is of course who is going to be available for the start of the season. The team may be forced into going with who is the most healthy, especially with reports that Livings may have more serious issues than was first thought.
Hearing that the Nate Livings knee injury is more serious than day-to-day. Could even be a season-long issue.— Jeff Sullivan (@SullyBaldHead) August 2, 2013
It is one thing to go with a line of Tyron Smith/Leary/Frederick/Arkin/Doug Free because they are the five players who earned the right to start. It is another to go with them because they are largely all you have left to work with.
That is apparently the line the Cowboys will be going with to open the HOF game. And it is looking increasingly likely that they will go with the same group against the New York Giants to open the season - if they can keep the five healthy. Livings is looking questionable for the year, Bernadeau still has yet to see the field, and no one else looks at all likely to challenge Leary or Arkin. Could this bring back the idea of starting Phil Costa at center and moving Fredbeard over, or even plugging Costa in as a guard? The indications are that the team is open to just about anything. But based on how the practices have gone so far, I think we are seeing the most likely configuration for the offensive in the group I mentioned above.
This does raise some fear and trepidation, especially for those who have long written Arkin off. But the reports so far are that he has done well. His strength and technique both are much improved, and he has been mostly focusing on guard (well, until this most recent practice, anyway). There was a belief that he was set back some by working as a center last year to meet the team's needs, and getting back to his normal position might be helping. The most significant thing about him, as pointed out by rabblerousr in the most recent podcast with KD, is that Arkin still took all the snaps at RG when Leary and Llivings were (briefly) both available. The staff appears to think that they have something with him, and his performance in camp so far looks like they might be correct.
Or maybe there is a certain amount of hopeful thinking involved. The team, and everyone else, will start to find out in Canton. Meanwhile, the Cowboys needs to get some banged-up offensive linemen back, or find some more bodies to sign. Soon.