I was popping off on a post by CharlesinChicago (The Other Guys (OGs) – Time to Poach or Trade for One?) and the effervescent Fernie67 asked if I would post my observations on the OL thus far. Well, playing to my ego has always worked in the past, so here we go . . .
Starting from the left, Tyron Smith continues to show improvement in a couple of areas that were not up to par with the rest of his game last year:
1) Maintaining a stronger base in his run blocking – as with many tall OL, Tyron had a tendency to get a little high on his positioning and would not maintain a wide base using choppy steps. As a result, his legs would get too far apart and result in his taking elongated strides, reducing his balance, power and ability to adjust to directional changes. His lower body has strengthened with 2 years of NFL weight training and the evidence is how well the stretch play has produced on the left side in the first 2 pre-season games.
2) Strengthening his punch in pass protection, diverting the inside move – Tyron has an excellent kick-slide for outside rushes, but would lose power when the DE made an inside move. As a result, even though he is blessed with large, strong hands, when he was off-balance the inside move would lead to holding calls. I credit the weight training and footwork coaching once again, but also the practices against DeMarcus Ware for improving this facet of his game.
Ronald Leary improved his footwork during the off-season . . . he always had strength, but could not utilize it to the fullest through explosion from his lower body. Once again, I’m going to credit the off-season weight training he went through, but his footwork and ability to get to the 2nd level (which was not in display last year) is very impressive. He always had the ability to run-block in a PBS scheme but his ability to slide and pull in the ZBS (not to mention the base he establishes in pass protection) makes him the starter at LOG in my opinion, as long as he doesn’t trip over his pickle.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had heard through sources that in order to get the best 5 OL on the field, Travis Frederick might be slotted at ROG. While he can play the position, Frederick needs to be the starting center . . . his footwork is not quite where it needs to be to get to the 2nd level at OG and I have always believed that second to LOT, center is the most important position on the OL. His intelligence in making all the calls, his base and strength (which should improve next year after a full year of NFL weight training) makes him ideal at the pivot. He will make some rookie mistakes this year but I predict those will be minimized before the half-way point of the season.
Mackenzy Bernadeau . . . an interior backup OL at best. However, I will say that he graded better than I anticipated in the Oakland game . . . now, I must state that the bar I had set for him was "limbo-low". There have been comments about his athleticism, but I just don’t see it . . . nor do I see the strength and explosion I would expect from a 333 lb. man. What are the options? Move Nate Livings to ROG . . . Ray Dominguez has pitiful footwork . . . David Arkin is still in the developmental incubator . . . move one of the young tackles inside . . . which brings me to Brian Waters. How much does he still have in the tank after being out of football for over a year? The intelligence and technique is still there, but how about strength and conditioning? I understand that you don’t have to line up 5 All-Pros on the OL, but someone solid next to Doug Free would be nice. I’m not going to get into a discussion of salary cap ramification, as I believe Dallas is in pretty good shape there . . . but based on what I have seen, if they do not go outside the current roster for help, I might consider moving Nate Livings to ROG (if he can get and stay healthy).
Ah, our favorite whippin’ boy . . . Doug Free! He has actually looked solid in the first 2 pre-season games . . . the ZBS fits him better as he has the footwork to slide, position and cut off defenders for cut-back running plays and his footwork, base and punch are improved in pass protection. What I worry about with Free is his tendency to go blank and forego his techniques . . . this happens when he gets over-extended and if you grade other OT’s in the league, the tall ones with long arms (which every team looks for) can turn that attribute into a negative if they do not keep their feet active. I believe Doug can be a serviceable ROT but it would be good to have a stabilizing influence next to him.
As far as the backups go, my pet cat Killer just can’t stay healthy . . . and that’s too bad, because I really like his nasty attitude. So, I would probably keep Costa, Bernadeau, I know they’re going to keep Arkin so I’ll just have to accept it, Parnell (if he comes back and plays as well as he did last year), and Weems (if they keep 10 OL). Coughman is not OT material, but might be worth keeping on the PS and turn him into OG to battle with Dominguez.
I’m still not totally satisfied with the OL, but so far it’s better than last year . . . but the main thing that needs to happen in the last few pre-season games is for the team to make a decision and play the 5 starters together who will open the season against the Giants.