The Dallas Cowboys had problems on offense last season, and one of the contributing factors was the decline in performance of their offensive line. The team endured a slew of injuries, but the biggest change occurred in the middle as the team was without two of their starters from the 2017 season. Left guard Jonathan Cooper left in free agency, and Travis Frederick missed the entire year after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Instead, the team relied on veteran Joe Looney to play center, while rookie Connor Williams took over at left guard.
The offensive line struggled in short yardage situations and in the red zone last year. Additionally, they gave up too much pressure on Dak Prescott and surrendered a staggering 56 sacks in the regular season.
The team is optimistic that those days are behind them as both interior line positions are going to receive an upgrade despite no outside personnel being added. Frederick is expected to return to his starting center spot, and Williams will give it another go at left guard with a year of experience under his belt.
Many Cowboys fans were upset when the team traded back in the 2013 draft and selected Frederick. It feels like only yesterday when draft analyst, and now Oakland Raiders general manager, Mike Mayock was criticizing the pick.
“Wow...wow…wow. I have a third-round grade on (him) and I like him…I think its a little bit of reach at this point,” said Mike Mayock.
At the time, Frederick was viewed as a player the Cowboys could’ve had in later rounds, basically squandering their first-round draft pick. But five seasons and four Pro Bowls later, it’s very clear that many of those draft pundits were dead wrong.
Frederick has not only performed at a high level since coming into the league, but he’s also been a reliable fixture playing in all 80 games of his first five years in the league. Unfortunately, after being diagnosed with GBS, that streak came to an end last year. He missed the entire 2018 season to concentrate on his health and build up his strength. On Tuesday, he was back out on the field and participated in his first padded practice since returning from his year hiatus.
While it’s great to have him back, many of us aren’t sure what we’re going to see this year. Will he be the same All-Pro caliber Frederick? Or will the effects of GBS impact his strength, stamina, or mobility? These are valid concerns, but things are looking positive for him as he shared with people a couple of reassuring achievements.
“There have been days that have been emotional and feel like a huge step. Those days when I was able to hit my max on the squat, or when I PR’ed in the power clean,” Frederick said. “Those days wondering whether or not I was going to be able to lift again, let alone hit my max numbers ever again --those days were emotional.”
It’s a great sign that Frederick has reached his personal record on those metrics. This indicates that he’s been able to regain his strength. And the fact that Frederick is so mentally adept at the position should point the arrow in the positive direction for the team’s veteran center. If he’s able to return to the old Frederick, this offensive line is going to be much improved.
But Frederick isn’t the only offensive linemen hoping to add a some strength in the trenches. Second-year guard Connor Williams is looking to put together a strong sophomore campaign to help fend off monster rushers in the middle.
Last year, Williams started at left guard for the first eight games of the season before a knee injured sidelined him. His replacement, Xavier Su’a-Filo, remained the team’s starter even after Williams got healthy. Su’a-Filo would suffer an injury himself, allowing Williams to move back into the starting left guard spot.
Williams struggled early on. Not only was he overpowered by stronger interior defenders, but he had problems handling his assignments. He would be slow to react to stunts, and by the time he figured it out, Dak Prescott was laying on his back.
While those things plagued him last season, that might not be the case this year. Not only has Williams bulked up, adding 15 pounds to his frame, but he’s starting to get a better feel for what he’s supposed to be doing. On Tuesday, Williams held his own against Maliek Collins as the young guard is already benefiting from additional upper body strength. He’s reading things better and looks a lot more comfortable at his position. Many forget that last season was his first year playing the guard position as he played tackle his entire career at the University of Texas. His lack of length has moved him to the guard spot for now, but he still possesses good athleticism and can move well, making him a strong asset in the Cowboys ground attack. With a year of experience under his belt, this could be a nice bounce-back season for Williams.
By virtue of just being patient, the Cowboys may get an upgrade at two positions along the interior offensive line. A healthier Frederick combined with a more experienced Williams makes for a nice jump in ability on the Cowboys front.