With the sudden departure of Travis Frederick, the Cowboys have a big hole to fill in the middle of their offensive line.
Perhaps the most obvious choice to fill this void is Joe Looney. The eight-year veteran started all 16 games at center for the Cowboys in 2018. He also started at left guard in Week 17 of the 2019 season, let’s look at a couple of plays from that game in video form.
On a third down play, Looney does a great job of picking up the blitz. After setting to the outside, he steps inside as the defender crosses his face and prevents penetration. This gives Dak Prescott a clean pocket, and allows him to complete the deep touchdown pass to Michael Gallup.
Later in the game, Looney did a great job of reaching the nose tackle. This created a cutback lane for Tony Pollard on the jet sweep.
His experience and skill make Looney a solid option for the Cowboys in 2020, but is he the best option?
When the Cowboys selected Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, it may have been with the intent of eventually replacing Frederick. Unfortunately, he missed his entire rookie season with a pectoral injury, so we’ll have to evaluate him based on his college film.
Take a look at this clip of McGovern at right guard at Penn State in 2018. He shows a great anchor, stopping the defensive end in his tracks as he stunts to the inside.
The previous year he started at center for the Nittany Lions. In this clip he does a great job on the combo block, getting a shot in on the defensive tackle before working up to the linebacker.
McGovern is a talented young player who could be the future for the Cowboys at center, but he has yet to take an NFL snap. Fortunately, there is one more option who is a bit more developed.
At one point Connor Williams was seen as a potential top-10 pick after an impressive run with the Texas Longhorns, but struggles at tackle in his final collegiate season led NFL scouts to project him inside to guard and diminished his draft stock.
A 2018 second-round pick, Williams has started over 20 games at guard for the Cowboys in the last two seasons, but could make the transition to center. As the left guard on this play against the Patriots, Williams did an incredible job of reaching the 5-technique defensive end. He demonstrates excellent athletic ability and strength to open up the running lane for Ezekiel Elliott.
A few plays later he showed off his strength again, this time in pass protection.
Williams held his ground as the defensive tackle engaged with him.
While Looney could slide seamlessly into the lineup, Williams and McGovern are more talented players. Williams has NFL experience, but McGovern has experience at the center position. Ideally the Cowboys will figure out the best way to get both Williams and McGovern in the lineup, with one at guard and the other at center.