Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line - John Williams, Inside The Star
John Williams takes us down memory lane as we revisit how the offensive line came to be. If you get nothing else from this article, remember these two things - The OLuminati is a real cool nickname for this group and that the new Cobra Kai show might be worth checking out on YouTube. But just in case you want football stuff, here's this...
Creating a Monster
Let's review how the Dallas Cowboys have collected this impressive group of humans to block for their football team.
Tyron Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Though he started out as a right tackle his rookie season, he made the move to the left side in his second year and has been considered one of the best tackles in the NFL since. Back issues have slowed him down, but he's still in his prime heading into his eighth (!!!) NFL Season.
Travis Frederick was the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. A lot of the draft analysts around the league believed that to be a reach at the time when the Dallas Cowboys traded back to 31 to select Frederick. They don't think it's a reach now.
In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys, yet again, selected an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft. It was widely reported that if Ryan Shazier would have been there at pick 16, that he would have been the selection. Shazier's been a great player in the league, but I'm actually glad that they got Martin. He's considered the best guard in the NFL and will probably be so for the next ten years.
Right Tackle La'el Collins would have been a first round draft pick had his name not been attached to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Instead of being a first round draft pick, the Dallas Cowboys, led by GM Jerry Jones, wined and dined Collins into signing a pretty nice deal for a UDFA. After rotating with Leary for a couple of seasons, he's now the RT for the best offensive line in football.
Connor Williams is strong enough to play on the interior but comes with the movement and flexibility to get to the perimeter and the second level. Though he was good last year, Jonathan Cooper was the weak link because of his movement limitations.
'Football Heaven': When the Dallas Cowboys 'Best 5' O-linemen are also the correct 5 - Mike Fisher, 247 Sports
The Cowboys not only have five good offensive linemen, but they got each of them in the right spot. Fish explains, starting with the addition of rookie Connor Williams.
Oh, yes, he's also got "position flex,'' as he was tackle in college and seems to be a phenomenal athlete; see that box jump here and be rather amazed that a 325-pound man can float like a feather. But when the Cowboys scouted him, they noted his relatively short arms. Short arms make you a guard. And when the Cowboys selected him, the card they turned into the NFL said "guard,'' and that was that.
So what does that leave the Cowboys with? LT - Tyron Smith, LG - Connor Williams, C - Travis Frederick, RG - Zack Martin, and RT - La'el Collins.
That's not just "Best Five'' based on talent. That also happens to be "Best Five'' matched where each guy best fits. And while the three acclaimed guys have established themselves to be on a certain plane, I'd suggest that leaving Collins alone at tackle will make him better; the Cowboys believe he improved greatly and rapidly over the course of 2017. And in the case of Williams, OTAs revealed the planned inclusion of more mobility from the left guard spot -- Williams as a pulling guard, due to his athletic ability, is a far more viable weapon that predecessor Jonathan Cooper was.
Paul Alexander on becoming the Cowboys' new offensive line coach: "In my lifetime, I'm 58, this is the best opportunity for a line coach that has ever opened in the National Football League."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 23, 2018
Of course, for these five to all play together it means that Zack Martin needs to be out on the field.
Why Zack Martin will get what he wants from Cowboys - Kevin Sherrington, SportsDay
Kevin Sherrington of Dallas Morning News takes the time to answer a few questions, including how the Zack Martin contract situation will play out.
How long will Zack Martin have to hold out until the Cowboys give him what he wants?
Sherrington: No idea, but he's going to get what he wants. You could make the argument that with Tyron Smith's bad back, Martin is their best OL. He's already considered the best guard in the league, and the Cowboys have invested a lot of money and several high draft picks in this OL. They're not about to let something like money ruin that now. This OL is their identity.
There is a lot to be gained if the Cowboys field a dominant offensive, especially if you wear number 21.
After tumultuous year, Ezekiel Elliott wants to put the work in - Todd Archer, ESPN
The 2018 season means a fresh start for the Cowboys star running back. Zeke appears to be embracing the opportunity and his quarterback is noticing it.
"The emotional roller coaster he was going through last year -- 'Was he playing?' 'Was he not playing?' -- and then to have the game taken away from him for the time he did, it takes a toll," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "It takes a toll on anybody that cares and loves what they do. And not only that, loves their teammates and the organization they play for. So just having that freedom, coming in this year, being able to work and knowing he's going to have every game ahead of him is going to do wonders for him.”
So, what does this new version of Elliott look like?
“He's been great out here at OTAs, being a great leader, showing guys the way to practice and the way to run. He's just showing those young guys the way to practice, with the ball, how to be great with the ball in your hands and how to be great without the ball in your hands," Prescott said. "He's one of those guys that doesn't have to say too much on the field, just the way he carries his business, the way he goes about it and the way he practices. It speaks for itself, and the young guys look up to it. I look up to it. The older guys look up to it. That's the way to practice and the way to be a pro in this league."
Zeke won’t be the only guy who benefits from an improved OLine. Dak Prescott is hoping for a rebound season as well.
Ranking Every NFL Team's Quarterback Situation Heading into 2018 Season - Zach Kruse, Bleacher Report
Where do the Cowboys sit in Bleacher Report's latest ranking?
15. Dallas Cowboys
Starter: Dak Prescott
Backups: Cooper Rush, Mike White, Dalton Sturm
Prescott's passing numbers were down across the board during his sophomore season. While disappointing, he is still one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks, and improvement in 2018 should be expected. Prescott is a more athletic version of Philip Rivers, with accuracy and toughness from the pocket.
What's behind Prescott should be a much bigger concern for the Cowboys.
Rush, White and Sturm might represent the worst backup trio in the NFL. Rush and Sturm are former undrafted free agents, while White is a rookie with some size and passing ability. The Cowboys better hope they unearthed another mid-round gem in White. Any injury to Prescott could be season-ending in Dallas.
Tavon Austin on Dallas Cowboys role: 'I'm a playmaker' - Kevin Patra, NFL.com
Whether he's a wide receiver or a running back means nothing to Tavon Austin as long as the Cowboys find a way to get him the ball.
"At the end of the day, I'm a playmaker," Austin said. "That's how I describe myself. I don't really care where I'm at on the field. I just want the ball and a little bit of space and let me create and I'm going from there.
But it might be more challenging that some expect as he wasn't able to make much of an impact in a much improved Rams offense last season.
Last year in Sean McVay's offense, Austin touched the ball an average of 4.23 times per game, including a goose egg in the Rams' playoffs loss. Of his 72 touches in 2017, just 13 came in the passing game. If an offensive mind like McVay couldn't figure out a way to use Austin, it's fair to wonder if the Cowboys will have success in that endeavor.
Will Rico Gathers get a fair shake at tight end? - Reid Hanson, Sport DFW
Fans are excited about the upside of Rico Gathers, yet there appears to be some apprehension from the coaching staff to turn him loose. Will 2018 finally be his year to shine or will it be more of the same with keeping him off the field?
Word out of the Star has long stated Rico is too raw and too unpredictable when forced to adjust to the defense. His ability to execute the right blocking assignments is in question. As his ability to read coverage and adjust his route accordingly is also in doubt. Failure to execute a block can lead to a negative play while failure to run the right route can end in a turnover. If he really is lost in his assignments the apprehension from the coaching staff is understandable.
The two things Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is working on to take next step from basketball to football - Brandon George, SportsDay
This is a big year for the Cowboys third-year tight end as he's trying to do what he can to make the roster this season.
Gathers said, however, he's focused on becoming a complete player at a time where more opportunity is there for the taking because veteran Jason Witten recently retired. He'll compete for playing time with tight ends Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz and undrafted rookie David Wells.
"The main thing is preparation and technique," Gathers said. "That's been the two biggest things I've been focusing on. It's just making sure I know my assignments and really honing in on the fundamentals of blocking."
Gathers believes he's ready for a regular-season game now.
Better health will help lead to more opportunities for Rico and the Cowboys are hoping to keep some key defensive players on the field too.
Sean Lee: Cowboys have 'great game plan' to keep me healthy in 2018 - Jon Machota, SportsDay
The veteran linebacker did not take part in practice and that always makes people feel uneasy.
The initial sight could be viewed as reason for concern considering Lee's injury history. However, he later assured reporters that he's not dealing with any new setbacks. This is all part of the Cowboys' plan to manage his offseason workload.
"I get the governor put on me and have to be smart this time of year," Lee said. "It's tough not being out there because you want to be out there trying to lead from the front, but there's perspective that's kept this time of year that we've got to build toward training camp and build towards the year."
What Should We Expect From DT Maliek Collins In 2018? - Kevin Brady, Inside The Star
Maliek Collins had a great rookie season, finishing the year with five sacks. But a position change and foot injury slowed him down last year. With the 2018 season already starting off very similar to last year, what should we all expect from Collins this season? Kevin Brady explains.
Well, it's pretty clear that the Cowboys value David Irving as a tackle and not an end. This means that if Irving and Collins are both going to play, Collins will have to get used to playing the 1-technique. Over the course of the 2017 season, I thought Collins became more comfortable in the spot, so with more work he may be able to fill the role well.
But what about his health? Well, the good news is that despite his injury issues during his first two seasons Collins has only missed 2 games. He was also second on the defensive line in snaps played last season, even though he was battling the aforementioned foot injury.
The Best-Kept Secret on Every NFL Roster - Justis Mosqueda, Bleacher Report
Bleacher Report breaks down each team's best-kept secret. The player they chose for Dallas isn't much of a secret within the Cowboys circle.
Dallas Cowboys: Jeff Heath, Safety
A 2013 undrafted free agent out of Division II's Saginaw Valley State, Jeff Heath went from an obscure special teamer to a full-time starter last season. Heath played 880 defensive snaps last year, the second-most on the Dallas Cowboys, while also playing a majority of special teams snaps.
Heath ranked 28th out of 45 qualifying free safeties in Bleacher Report's NFL1000 series this season. He isn't Earl Thomas, but his baseline emergence does benefit the team. For example, it's unlikely former first-round pick Byron Jones would move to cornerback, as the team has said is the plan this offseason, if Heath didn't take the next step last season.
His contract is also noteworthy. Heath is in the third year of a four-year contract in which his cap hit will never be more than $2.45 million. For the number of snaps he's playing, he's one of the best veteran values in the NFL.
Jeff Heath named 'Best Kept Secret' on Cowboys roster for 2018 - Patrik Walker, 247 Sports
After making big plays on Sunday Night Football against the Raiders, the secret was out. Patrik Walker explains.
One need look no further than his Son of El-type late game performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 15, in which he saved the season for the Cowboys after cornerback Anthony Brown failed to with a dropped interception late in the fourth quarter.
Heath stepped up to the challenge with the Raiders threatening to take the lead for good, running down quarterback Derek Carr and forcing a fumble that would result in a touchback -- giving the Cowboys possession, and a continued playoff hope.
Although unheralded, the play just before set the stage for the game-saving rundown to occur, with Heath breaking on the ball masterfully to swat the it down in the end zone and prevent the go-ahead touchdown.