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Locked and loaded: Cowboys committing to Connor Williams at left guard

Tellingly, Connor Williams is the only rookie running with the first team.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys under Jason Garrett have a certain way of doing things. One of the annual rites of passage for rookies is the process of earning the Star. They do not get to wear the signature decal on their helmets during practice until they actually make the roster (or the practice squad). For preseason games, the decal is applied, but then removed while camp is still underway. Closely tied to that is a certain amount of deference to the veteran players, at least at the start of things. And we have seen that so far this year. From first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch to the UDFAs, the rooks are lining up with the second and third teams during OTAs.

With one notable exception. During the weekly media session on Wednesdays, Connor Williams has been the left guard with the ones. Every snap, apparently.

While this may be impacted a bit by the ongoing holdout of Zack Martin while he and the team are still negotiating his extension, it looks much more like this is just a foregone conclusion. That was the perception from the moment he was announced as Dallas’ second-round pick in April. The staff could certainly have used Marcus Martin to fill in during these early practices since they have been running Chaz Green at right guard. That would have been a bit more consistent.

But the opportunity for Williams to work on his timing with Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith is too good to pass up. With the limitations placed on teams by the CBA, every snap counts. And that may already be paying off, as Bryan Broaddus of the mothership noted in his latest practice recap.

Things have been going well for Connor Williams while working with the first unit at left guard. There was a snap where I don’t know if Williams missed an assignment, but Datone Jones went right around Travis Frederick like Frederick was expecting help from Williams. Williams ended up double-teaming with Cam Fleming while Frederick went up on Joe Thomas, leaving Jones unblocked. After the play you could see Frederick and Williams have a little chat discussing what had just happened.

That is exactly the kind of teaching and “working out of the kinks” that can be so valuable for the smooth operation of the offensive line. (Although it would be interesting to know just exactly how that “chat” went, and what precise language was used.) Given the importance of the offensive line to the Cowboys’ scheme, this seems a wise course to take. Williams has a lot to learn, and having arguably the best center in the league in his ear is a good thing.

It also reinforces the idea that Williams may have been the second player Dallas drafted, but was also the most important. Vander Esch is relegated to the second unit while Jaylon Smith, who only has one year of actual experience under his belt, is working on playing the MIKE with the first team. The risk the staff took in making Vander Esch the first choice was not insignificant. Williams was probably the last offensive line talent left that the Cowboys felt comfortable penciling in as the starter when they went on the clock with the 50th overall pick. But the gamble paid off. He was seen by the team as having the talent and ability to shore up a line that faltered at times in 2017. It was an impressive bit of reading the draft and maximizing value.

There was never a doubt that Williams was intended to be the starting left guard this season. This is just a confirmation of that. Still, given how the struggles of the offensive line contributed to the failures of last year, it is reassuring to see how things are headed.

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