While it is accurate to say that Dak Prescott’s performance is the most important single factor determining the success of the 2023 Dallas Cowboys offense, he is not exactly in need of a lot of coaching from QBs coach Scott Tolzien at this point in his career. Tolzien will probably focus mainly on helping Prescott with the new elements of the offense and weekly game plan installation. Any coaching up will be focused on backups Cooper Rush and Will Grier. Most do not see quarterback as any kind of concern for the Cowboys.
What is a concern is the offensive line. While the return of Terence Steele from his injury is extremely welcome news, it looks like Zack Martin is going to be holding out for a while. There are still some questions about how Tyron Smith and Tyler Smith are going to be used, including whether Tyler is going to be the LG or not, although it certainly is trending that way based on the first few training camp practices. The only absolutely settled position on the entire line is center Tyler Biadasz. And beyond the expected starting five, depth is very uncertain.
This is Mike Solari’s first year as the team’s offensive line coach, but he had an earlier stint as the assistant offensive line coach in Dallas in 1987-88, his first stop of many in the NFL. He was away from football last season, but got the call to come to the Cowboys when the leadership decided to move on from Joe Philbin. His most recent job was with the Seattle Seahawks. While Solari may seem like another in the constant rotation of veteran coaches in the NFL, the performance of his lines over the years offers justification for his longevity.
In the Cowboys training camp media guide, one thing in particular jumps out that may be particularly relevant to his hiring:
...Solari spent 2016-17 as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants. Injuries forced Solari to use seven different starting offensive line combinations in 2016, but still only allowed 22 sacks - five fewer than the Giants surrendered in 2015 - and the third-lowest total in the NFL after Oakland (18) and Pittsburgh (21).
That is very similar to the constant shuffle that Dallas dealt with last year, and that experience should serve Solari well in Dallas. With the injury histories of both Tyron Smith and Steele, it is very possible Solari will have to do a lot of mixing and matching to keep a line on the field at some point. Experience can be invaluable in those kinds of situations.
However, there may be another facet of coaching that could be very important for the Cowboys, player development. Outside the top five, the offensive line group is very green. Besides free agent signee Chuma Edoga, all the rest of the other ten linemen on the roster have three or less years experience in the league, with only Matt Farniok having appeared in 19 games over his first two years. Edoga has a just a bit more himself, with 26 games since he joined the league in 2019, but at least he started in half of them. Farniok has seen only two starts last season during the line shuffle mentioned above.
Clearly, this is not enough experience among the backups. And there is no way to manufacture it, other than the upcoming practices and preseason games. That is where Solari has to come in, using every skill and technique he can to prepare the ones who do make the roster to be fully prepared to step on the field at a moment’s notice and not have the protection and blocking go to crap because of them. Solari does have a pretty good history of seeing his linemen garner postseason honors, but that is always a chicken and egg question. Was it his coaching or the talent of the players? Frankly, the former is often overvalued with the level of talent in the NFL, but there are also clear examples of coaching making a difference with young players - not always for the better. Now the Cowboys are giving Solari the responsibility of getting these young linemen ready, as well as getting the most out of the starters.
The offense starts up front with run blocking and pass protection. A bad line can not only stall an offense, it can get the other players hurt, particularly the quarterback. Which comes back around to how important Prescott is for Dallas, and how Solari now has to make sure the QB stays upright, as well as making sure holes get opened for Tony Pollard and the rest of the running backs. Early in camp, the offensive line is the most unsettled unit on the entire team. That is not a good thing for such a crucial element. It is going to be up to Solari to establish some stability and get the younger players coached. He is the most important position coach on the team, and we wish him all the success possible.