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Cowboys Camp Battles: All Eyes Are On The Offensive Line (Again)

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Deja vu all over again. By late in the 2011 Dallas Cowboys training camp, the general feeling around here was that the success or failure of the team was going to depend on how well the offensive line could come together and get the job done. To a large degree, I would say was a very accurate assessment.

Going into the 2012 Cowboys training camp, my feeling is that the success or failure of the team is going to depend on how well the offensive line can come together and get the job done. I am confident that the defense is going to be better. The best players on that side, like DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Jay Ratiliff and Anthony Spencer (don't waste your time arguing with me about Spencer, I am in his camp) and others will be back, and the new additions like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, plus the expected improvement from the combination of Bruce Carter and Dan Connor, whoever becomes the starter alongside Lee, make me sure of this. Most of the offensive skill starters are set, and I have faith that the third wide receiver issue will be solved in time for the September 5th kickoff against the New York Giants.

But I still feel a desperate need to buy case lots of antacid and/or scotch to medicate myself when I look at the offensive line. The only player seen as likely to start where he was last season is center Phil Costa - and although that seems the team's current plan, there is a chorus of voices out here calling out for a replacement. Tyron Smith is entering his second season at a new position, left tackle, and we can only hope he duplicates his outstanding debut on the right side in 2011. Doug Free switches positions with Smith, going to right tackle, and we likewise hope he gets over the slump in performance he had last year. Free agent Nate Livings is penciled in to start at left guard (at the moment). He is experienced, but a look at how he has performed in the past does not exactly inspire supreme confidence. And free agent Mackenzy Bernadeau was expected to be the right guard, but he is on the PUP list recovering from hip surgery. What exactly is going to happen there is open to question.

Add in the usual suspects from last year, who did not overwhelm with their collective performance, and it almost feels like we are right back where we started. That's not exactly true, of course. The team has once again dropped age in Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland, and even the players we grumbled about in 2011 are reported to be stronger and have had a full offseason of coaching to build their skills. But what is exactly the same is that this bunch of guys is going to be the key to whether the Cowboys move forward or not from the mediocrity of last year. And, as the injuries that season proved, coming up with the right backup players is almost as important as naming the starters.

A look at who is coming to Oxnard, and who is likely to still be with the team when the season starts, after the jump.

Player Comments Chances

Jeff Adams (OT)

The Cowboys brought McQuistan in just so the backup quarterbacks and running backs would have a chance to prove themselves. This does not bode well for Adams. He would have to have a major showing in pre-season to have any chance, possibly even to make the practice squad.

Camp body.

Levy Adcock (OT)

See Jeff Adams. Adcock is likely competing with him for a possible PS spot.

Camp body redux.

David Arkin (G)

The competition at guard is wide open. I have no idea how much Arkin has improved versus last year. It would be great to see him break out. I don't think it happens.

Very slim chance.

Mackenzy Bernadeau (C/G)

His hip surgery is a major threat to the plans for this year. No question, though, he is eager to get back on the field, and is coming up to the end of his expected recovery time. I think we will see him cleared to practice soon, and then I am cautiously optimistic he plays well.

Definitely in the mix, and should make the team.

Phil Costa (C)

You may be one of the many who doesn't want to hear this, but all indications are that the job is his to lose. If Bernadeau had not had his surgery, he might be a real challenge here. He did, though, and I think we will see Costa starting at center. He is reportedly stronger. Here's hoping his accuracy is better as well.

At worst, I think he is the backup.

Doug Free (OT)

He is the starting right tackle. The team really needs him to look a lot more like 2010 than 2011. I am moderately optimistic he will.


Harland Gunn (G)

He has some good reviews in the absence of Bernadeau and Kowalski. Could be a sleeper, at least for the backup job.

Most likely, the team tries to sneak him on PS - bad luck for some others here.

Kevin Kowalski (C/G)

Missing time has not helped him. But he does offer the ability to be a backup at two jobs, a big plus on a Jason Garrett-coached team. It will most likely come down to how fast he heals.

I still think he will be on the squad.

Ronald Leary (G)

Jerry Jones likes him. That is no small thing, as you probably know. And he is a perfectionist, which I bet Jason Garrett really likes. He has gotten a lot of work in the pre-pre-season practices with Bernadeau and Kowalski out, and the team had a high draft grade on him, outside the question about his knee issues. He says he can play. I believe him. He is likely to cost Arkin, Nagy, or Kowalski their job.

I think he is likely to be on the 53.

Nate Livings (G)

He was signed to be the left guard. Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan see something here, although his history does make you wonder exactly what. I hope they are very wise. It would take an incredibly good performance by someone to take his place.


Pat McQuistan (OT)

He was brought in as a camp body. That was the plan. The only way he makes the team is if he plays better than anyone expects and the team keeps four tackles on the final roster.

I don't expect him to be with the team against the Giants.

Bill Nagy (C/G)

Expected to be the backup to Costa, his experience starting at guard last year is also in his favor. Multiplicity should keep him on the team.

Probably the most solid shot as a backup in the interior line.

Tyrone Novikoff (OT)

I don't know why, but I have a better opinion of him than I do of Adams or Adcock. Maybe it's just the name.

Still probably fighting for PS.

Jermey Parnell (OT)

The three year contract he got is a clear indicator the team thinks they have something here. I expect to see him on the team, and hope to see him riding the bench all year.

His job seems very secure.

Tyron Smith (OT)

Dallas' best lineman last year. And, I firmly believe, this year, and for years to come.

I see good things in his future.

Now, there are a lot of maybes and ifs there. So let me lay it out this way. I think Dallas keeps nine OL on the 53, and puts two on the practice squad. Smith, Livings, Costa and Free are set as four of the starters, and I think Bernadeau and Leary battle it out for the RG job. The backups will be the loser of that battle plus Parnell, Nagy, and Kowalski (all who can backup more than one starter). Gunn winds up beating out Arkin to go on the PS at guard, and the team will take the best of the eligible OTs for another PS position. That will give them players to bring up in case of injury.

That's how I see it. And I happen to be taking a similar position to that of Bryan Broaddus of the mothership, who obviously knows a lot more than I do. When asked about the top story of camp, he answered:

The offensive line. I think this wide receiver and inside linebacker situation will take care of itself. There are a lot of moving parts here. You are switching tackles and have new guards and a center that, at times, gives you no confidence. Bill Callahan is one of the best offensive line coaches in the league and he is outstanding at making adjustments, but it will test every bit of skill that he has to bring this group together against some of the best fronts in the NFL that this group will face.

Here is hoping Callahan is up to the task.