It looks like four-fifths of the Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is pretty much settled. Super-stud Tyron Smith will man left tackle. Surprise 2013 rookie Travis Frederick is the man in the middle. At right guard, another first-round draft pick, Zack Martin (2014), will make his debut. Over at right tackle, veteran holdover Doug Free will get the call. Initially, we thought the left guard was also already in place. Incumbent Ronald Leary was penciled in, but it turns out he's going to have to fight for his position and hold off Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Bernadeau was displaced by Zack Martin, just like last season he was displaced by Brian Waters. But he's still hanging around even though he had to take a pay cut this past offseason. I, for one, have been hard on Bernadeau, but have to admit that once Waters went down in the 2013 season, Bernadeau came in and did admirable work. Our own Tom Ryle documented that in a Dec 2013 article. I'll lift this one passage for a comparison sake.
According to [PFF], Bernadeau is grading out as a +4.7 for the season, including +2.4 for the Raiders game. But he has only played four games as a starter, and accumulated 443 snaps overall. Most starters who have played the entire season have accumulated around 850 snaps. Based on that, Bernadeau would be expected to grade out at around a +8.8, which would put him somewhere in the top 12 or 15 guards in the league.
The Cowboys line seemed to get better as the season wore on and their running game really shined. This offseason, Pro Football Focus had this to say about the Bernadeau/Leary battle.
I was really torn at how best to represent the likely scenario at guard. My view is that Mackenzy Bernadeau is a better player than Ronald Leary and he should retain his starting job with Leary being replaced by Zack Martin (or at least that being the initial plan). However, I get the feeling the Dallas Coaching staff sees it the other way around and it will be Bernadeau seeing second string reps and that's how I've completed the chart. Obviously Leary is the younger player (three years) but the difference in performance levels was so noticeable I don't think the 28-year-old player should be penalized.
Now, Bernadeau had a nice run at the end of 2013, but he's also struggled at other times, he was let go by his first team and didn't light the world on fire in Dallas, either. Part of that may be injury related, it's hard to say. Also, Berandeau provides value as a center/swing guard backup. Here's an entire article of Bernadeau quotes about the upcoming battle for him, but suffice it to say he's ready to engage.
On the other side of the ledger is Ronald Leary, the guy who played left guard all year last season, and while not exactly lighting the world on fire, either, he did gain valuable experience. Leary was an UDFA that the Cowboys had ranked as third- or fourth-round talent, but a chronic knee problem scared teams away. They paid him big bucks for an UDFA but were unable to use him their first year as injury derailed his 2012 season. Leary has talent, but last year was an up-and-down experience for him.
No player earned a lower grade [on the Cowboys line] than Ronald Leary (-9.4). The former undrafted free agent was largely decent but had a tricky middle spell to his season where he gave too much ground in pass protection.
He's young, he's got some experience now, and he could blossom into a good starter. But, he's not there just quite yet.
So BTB, what do you do? Continue with Leary and hope he improves, or turn to Bernadeau who has shown some good work when healthy?