While it is a popular endeavor to lash out at the performance of Jason Garrett and his coaching staff; there is at least one area in which he and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan are deserving of credit. The offensive line, whose shortcomings have been a subject of much ink over the past few years, is now on its way to becoming an effective part of the team. A process that began in January of 2011, when Garrett assumed the permanent helm of the ship in Dallas, is nearing completion.
If you will recall, during his first season as head coach, Jason Garrett made the choice to part ways with veteran linemen Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo and take his chances with a group of young prospects. In their place Dallas invested a first round draft pick on Tyron Smith and they also brought in guys like David Arkin, Bill Nagy, and Kevin Kowalski. From that first group, only Smith remains, but it was the start of a churn of offensive lineman as Dallas began a full-fledged rebuild.
Moving to year two, Garrett again sent a veteran, this time Kyle Kosier, packing. To rebuild, Dallas did not rely on rookies alone. There were also free agent acquisitions as well. Among the players that Dallas brought in were guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Again Livings failed to stick with the team, but Bernie has started to come into his own as a player. They also took a risk on a young guard named Ron Leary, who went undrafted due to a degenerative knee condition. To round out the rebuild, in Garrett's third season, the Cowboys again invested a first round selection in an offensive lineman, this time it was Travis Frederick to play center. By the time the churn was done, only tackle Doug Free, whose career seems to have found a new life, remained from when Garrett replaced Wade Phillips.
It was not only on the field where the Garrett ax fell; for 2012 Jason replaced well-respected offensive line coach Hudson Houck with Bill Callahan. The former NFL and college head coach had recently come off of a four-year tenure where he had helped the New York Jets build a formidable offensive line. In 2013, the Cowboys added Frank Pollack as an offensive line assistant. He had been a key factor in implementing the zone blocking scheme that Arian Foster and the Houston Texans had rode to great success.
For the Cowboys linemen, success came slowly. In addition to the moves that were made in previous seasons, the Dallas front office brought in veteran Pro Bowler Brian Waters to strengthen the group. Although he played only a few games for the team, Waters brought an experienced presence to the team. When he went down, there were concerns that a line that was showing its first signs of coming together would suffer a setback. Fortunately quite the opposite happened. Over the past few weeks the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is playing better than it has in many seasons. They have turned into a unit rather than just a collection of five football players. Running behind this group of men, Cowboys back DeMarco Murray stands poised to become the first thousand-yard rusher in Dallas since Julius Jones accomplished the feat in 2006.
Rebuilding the offensive line has not been an easy task. Along the way the unit and some individual players have faced strong criticism, but they persevered. At last, it looks like Dallas may be seeing the fruits of the efforts made by guys like Garrett and Callahan.
"It’s a hard thing to do. It started with Tyron Smith, it continued with some other decisions that we’ve made. And then certainly Travis Frederick came into the mix this offseason and has helped us. You need to have young, cornerstone players on your offensive line, and we’ve gone through that process over the last couple of years. I think we’re getting where we need to be." - Jason Garrett
While there has been much to be critical of during the Garrett tenure in Dallas; all has not been failure. One look at the development of this year's offensive line will prove that. If you blame the staff for their failures (they should be held accountable), then you give them credit for their successes as well.