Just a couple years ago, the Dallas Cowboys fielded a defensive secondary that consisted of Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman, Gerald Sensabaugh and Abe Elam. After seeing poor coverage ability, a lack of turnovers and utter confusion amongst the group, Jerry Jones vowed to transform that unit into a product that could go out onto the field and not get completely torched and embarrassed.
In life there are times where we notice things a year or two too late, and that's exactly what the Cowboys did with their secondary. Things weren't getting any better but they continued to ignore it and just kept moving forward with what they already had.
Jones opened his wallet for Brandon Carr, but he then got out his war room trading chart and scooped up the prospect they had rated as the best defensive player in the draft in LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Throw in a promotion to Barry Church and when healthy that unit looked a lot different from the previous secondary.
Seeing Jones take a leaky secondary and invest the dollars and draft picks it required to get the results that became necessary gave me hope that he would possibly do the same with the offensive line in 2013.
You could make a strong case that the Cowboys needed to start investing more in that area last year or the year before, and I would strongly agree with you on that front. But with their investment resources used on the secondary dried up, Dallas was left to field another average offensive line with journeyman, undrafted players and low-level free agents. Only one player on the team held a high pedigree and that was 2011 first-round pick Tyron Smith.
The line can't be blamed for all of the failures the Cowboys' offense had in 2012, but it's a smart bet to pick them as one of the main culprits.
Tony Romo was sacked a career-high 36 times last year. Pressure from the outside was problematic, but the real source of the trouble came from the interior of the line. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2012 the Cowboys were the 26th ranked pass blocking unit in the league. We've always preached about giving Romo more time. If he actually had that time, the offense would run a lot smoother.
Perhaps the biggest issue last year was the stagnant and stale running game. Romo made the passing game work when he had to, but there wasn't much he could do to jump start a ground attack that ranked second-to-last in yards per game (79.1), 30th overall in yards per carry (3.6) and 27th overall with eight rushing touchdowns.
With all of this in mind, Dallas entered the draft with what seemed to be a focus on offensive lineman. Free agency wasn't going to be an option for them, they didn't have the money at the time to splurge on guards, but there were some reports out there that the Cowboys had interest in Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo. Because of their handicap in free agency, they knew that the draft would have to be the means for them to acquire more talent.
I won't go into detail about what happened before the Travis Frederick selection anymore because that wasn't how I would have handled it, but it's hard not supporting the decision to add a Wisconsin center whose best attributes include superior strength and intelligence. Those are the type of skills that should fix a lot of the issues that we saw from the Cowboys in the middle of their line the last few years.
But the question remains, why only add Frederick to solve all of the problems you had up front last year? After seeing the now infamous leaked draft board, it appeared that Dallas wasn't very high on any of the other offensive lineman that were available for them to select.
So what does that say for the lineman left on the roster? From my perspective, it looks like the organization is willing to let coach Bill Callahan have another year to implement his type of blocking scheme with the lineman he inherited. Maybe the Cowboys believe that more coaching from Callahan and another year of experience will elevate the offensive line play.
The lack of lineman additions also speaks volumes about what the Cowboys already have on their roster. Maybe last year's big UDFA signing Ronald Leary turns out to be the real deal. You don't give up on a player after one season, it doesn't make sense financially or in terms of football development. Leary may well be another failed project, but he could also be a starting caliber player. This is something everyone in Dallas wants to find out.
Nate Livings may not be an All-Pro, but he was one of our best lineman last year. Some are ready to cut him and bring in another player, but from the tape I reviewed Livings played pretty good football for us, especially down the stretch. Pro Football Focus points out that he probably had his best year of his career in the NFL as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Stud: Never let us say we can’t be wrong. Nate Livings (+11.3) had his most consistent year as a pro in Dallas, making a mark with his run blocking.
Livings looks like he will be starting as the left guard again, but the uncertainty at right guard with Mackenzy Bernadeau could open up a starting role for a young guy like Leary. Also let's not forget about Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin. If you are looking for a camp sleeper to watch or root for, then keep your eye on "Killer K" as he is my darkhorse candidate to make an impact and win a job.
Who knows where Phil Costa will end up. If Frederick starts, that leaves him the odd man out. Unless Costa can play guard and play it better than the other natural guards on the roster, he may be relegated to the backup center role.
Tyron Smith went through a lot of personal ordeals last season. He didn't have a great season, but he was learning a new position and had some off-the-field stuff floating around his head and that probably messed him up a enough to not play his best football. At just 22 years young, we shouldn't worry about him.....yet.
I do expect him to have a bounce-back season, but he needs to start stringing together that immense potential into results.
There still must be some hope that the real Doug Free is going to return to form. It's unrealistic to expect Free to become a lockdown or dominating tackle over on the right side, but it's not out of the realm of possibility to see him get back to playing solid football. The sad part is, Free was so bad last year that he really can't get any worse. Right behind him is Jeremy Parnell, another project that will either sink or swim in 2013.
The battle between Free and Parnell could play a large role in the future of the right tackle position in Dallas. Former Oregon offensive tackle Darion Weems is another athletic lineman who is a natural fit for an uptempo or zone blocking scheme.
The state of the offensive line right now is interesting. It may not be loaded with premier talent and this may be the beginning of a transition of sorts, but some of these lineman must find a way to play at a higher level than we saw from that unit last year and give more consistent play.
If the line doesn't get better this year, then we may finally see the type of overhaul we saw in the secondary last season.