While most folks at the National Fantasy Football Convention were fans focused on various interactive events, your BTB guys like RJ Ochoa and myself were more interested in talking to current Cowboys. One player that was eager for training camp to begin was the new starting right tackle, La’el Collins. He was asked how the move to tackle was going after predominately playing left guard has been:
“It’s going good, man. I just enjoy being out there on that end, I enjoy being out in space. It’s what I like to do.”
Collins certainly has the athleticism to transfer to tackle, the position that he played all through out his years at LSU. What has stood out to most Cowboys’ fans when Collins started at left guard was his ability to block on the second-level. Next-Gen stats showed impressive movement from the big guy against the Packers in 2015. Not only did he dismiss Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a block but he topped out at a speed of 18.25 miles-per-hour as Darren McFadden streaked down the sidelines. He was also featured by the NFL for his pancake blocks, like this one against the Seahawks, where he bulldozed two All-Pro’s in Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas.
He hasn’t spent any time at guard this offseason but he’s not going to rule anything out. He just knows that he’ll be ready for anything:
“Well, I feel like as long as I go to work every day, do what my coaches ask, I’ll be right where I need to be. I mean...I think our coaches are looking for the best five guys. Wherever we can move a guy around to get our best out there. I’m willing to play wherever I need to play.”
The Cowboys seemingly covet versatility and not just on the new defense they are creating. The coaches have shown that they will move guys around to get the best combination on the field. Though it won’t come without some growing pains from the reshuffling, Collins has a simple plan to success:
“I’m an athlete, man. I feel like I can go out there, move my feet, and just do my job. Honestly, I didn’t think about playing other positions coming out of college but now I’ve played left guard, left tackle, right guard, and now right tackle. I feel like I can play anywhere. It’s brought something out of me that I didn't know I had.”
It’s encouraging to see such a confident Collins heading into training camp this weekend. When asked about how difficult it was for Collins to move from left guard to right tackle, he wasn’t shy at all:
“Not at all, man. It hasn’t been an issue and I’ve just been working at it. I got a jump on it at OTA’s. It all comes with repetition, you just keep working and working at it. I’m excited about it, man.”
Collins will be assuming the role that was previously held by Doug Free. Free, 33 years old, decided to retire after his ten years in the league as he’s dealt with nagging injuries over the past several years. Despite how some folks feel about Free’s contributions, his leadership among the young guys was undeniable. Collins spoke about how Free’s legacy will be remembered in the locker room at the Star:
“It’s that veteran legacy. He’s an older guy and he’s dealt with so much and played through it. He never got down on it [himself], he was always positive. As a young guy, you see him and think: Man, I’m not feeling good but here’s this 10-year vet out there. Well, I guess I’m fine, don’t worry about me, I’m feeling great. He always taught us to handle your business, to take care of what you got to take care of and you’ll be in there a long time.”
Doug Free may have seen his fair share of injuries but he definitely had the toughness to go back in and play through it. Collins said that was his plan too after he tore a toe ligament in the third game against the Chicago Bears:
“We scored that touchdown (Dak Prescott’s one-yard run). Then later I tore that ligament on the field goal, I tried to play a couple of more series. They said ‘We gotta get you out of there, you ain’t right’, that’s just what it was. I do it for my team, the guys I go to war with. At the same time, it’s about always being available for my guys there.”
Collins was also asked about the need for the Cowboys to continue to prove they’re the best offensive line in football. Collins doesn’t take any day for granted or focus on what folk’s think about the Cowboys’ line:
“At the end of the day, we gotta prove it every day in this league. We can’t walk in on the stipulation that we’re the best. You got to go out, get the work, and prepare yourself every day. We don’t feed into anything, we just go to work and let everything play out.”
The Cowboys coaches are known for picking a theme to every offseason with their “We Do” and “Fight” shirts. This season, the mantra is “Recommit”, Collins explained what that means to him:
“Every day you walk into that building, the mind set is the same. Every one of our team’s core values. Everything you have, you got to bring it every day and it doesn’t matter how you’re feeling. You bring ‘it’ to work and commit to what this team is doing.”
Collins answered who is the team leader on the offensive line now that Free has retired. It’s pretty obvious who that guy would be after all.
“Travis [Frederick] is ‘THAT’ guy, he’s taken Free’s spot. It’s great to have him, he’s a great leader, a great guy, we’re fortunate that we have Travis, man.”
La’el also answered which member of the “Great Wall of Dallas Part II” or “Legion of Room” has the biggest appetite.
“Travis eats a lot, man. Don’t tell him I said that but he knows how to put it down. I’m a chicken guy, so if we’re eating chicken, I may be the guy. It just depends on where we are.”
All joking aside, La’el Collins has high expectations for himself in 2017 and so does every Cowboys’ fan. His athleticism is so impressive and success on the offensive line has been in correlation with the success of the Dallas Cowboys in recent years. They are the backbone of the team and literally go everywhere together. It’s a tight group, where continuity has reigned supreme.
It’s hard to bet against the guys that have had the league’s leading rusher twice in three years and even had Darren McFadden finish fourth in a 4-12 season. Though they have a few changes they’re going through, guys like Collins are ready to build the foundation for even bigger success in the near future.