With a little more than a month remaining to the open of training camp on July 21st in Oxnard, I will begin a series of posts in which I evaluate the position battles at every position, and exactly how many players the Cowboys should carry on the 53-man roster.
Lets start with the most important unit that will be critical to the Cowboys success this season: The offensive line.
After the end of OTA’s, it will be crucial for the Cowboys to ensure they carry the best lineman to win. Going into training camp, the battle will conclude with what I believe to be only 9 spots on the roster. The team currently carries 15 lineman but the 12 with the best chance to make the roster are listed below.
- Tyron Smith
- Nate Livings
- Mackenzy Bernadeau
- Travis Frederick
- Doug Free
- Jeremy Parnell
- Phil Costa
- Ronald Leary
- Darion Weems
- Kevin Kowalski
- David Arkin
- Ryan Cook
The two sure fire starters on this list are Tyron Smith and rookie Travis Frederick. Both first round draft picks, they possess skill and talent the rest of the line lacks.
Tyron Smith has the most upside on this line, and surely will possess a more increased level of comfort as the team’s left tackle after making the switch from right tackle a couple seasons ago. It’ll be up to Smith to set the the tone for the rest of the line’s performance, as he will be protecting Romo’s blindside.
Also, there is no doubt in my mind that Frederick will start at center this season. During OTA’s, Frederick received all first team snaps at center with Phil Costa as the backup. Coach Jason Garrett also said Frederick will receive some work on the side at guard. But when you draft a guy in the first round, it’s hard to believe he will play anywhere else but his natural position at center. Not to mention the mess the center position was last year in getting the ball to Tony Romo.
After those two, this is where things get a little messy in deciding who will play right tackle and the guard positions.
Jeremy Parnell and Doug Free basically split the snaps at right tackle in the second half of last season, with Parnell outperforming Free. Instead of the split this year, I believe Parnell beats out Free for the right tackle job. Last season, Free allowed 7 sacks compared to Parnell’s 5. Although Free had more snaps compared to Parnell’s, Free continually allowed more pressure to reach Tony Romo. It is common knowledge around Cowboys camp as well that Parnell also is a superior run blocker. Parnell seems to possess a higher ceiling than quickly fading Doug Free, which is why I believe he will start at right guard for the Cowboys in 2013. Free will be reduced to a backup role.
The most questions and controversy arise in picking who will start for the Cowboys at the two guard positions in 2013. Last year, starters Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings were at the center of the somewhat often confused middle of the line play. Frequently battling injuries, the two free agent lineman highly underachieved over and over again, even when healthy. The Cowboys simply can’t afford that this season.
At right guard, the Cowboys coaching staff must decide between the veteran Nate Livings and Ronald Leary. The Cowboys do value the experience of Nate Livings but is he actually worth the patience returning from injury? Leary has worked with Frederick and Smith in OTA’s and seems to be developing chemistry with the anchors of the line day by day. In training camp, Leary should receive first team snaps, with Livings forced to a backup role for now. However, some view Livings on his way out the door in Dallas as backups Kevin Kowalski and Ryan Cook can both play guard in addition to their center position. I don’t feel the Cowboys will cut Livings as they value veteran presence among the youthful offensive line. I think the odd men out here are Kevin Kowalski and Ryan Cook.
Lastly, at left guard the Cowboys have Mackenzy Bernadeau and David Arkin. Based on playing time from last season, I believe that Bernadeau holds the edge here, but Cowboys nation, watch out for David Arkin. By the end of training camp I would not be surprised if he supplants Bernadeau as the starter.
The Cowboys offensive line is under the most pressure in decades to succeed this season. The 2012 line offered no pass protection for Tony Romo, and dreadful run blocking for DeMarco Murray. For the Cowboys to flip the script this season, they must be better along the offensive line. As a result I am predicting 3 new lineman to start for the Cowboys this season.
Starters (from left to right)- Tyron Smith, David Arkin, Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary, Jeremy Parnell.
Backups- Phil Costa, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Doug Free
Odd Men Out-Ryan Cook, Kevin Kowalski, Darion Weems