One of the biggest concerns after the 2011 season was the state of the Cowboys offensive line. On many occasions last season it seemed as though opposing teams were in the Cowboys backfield more than the Cowboys were. Without a solid offensive line the running game suffers which then leads to problems with the passing game. Even with all the moves the Cowboys have made with the line this off season there are still so many questions and concerns about whether or not the line will be improved in 2012. The Cowboys announced that Tyron Smith and Doug Free will be switching sides at tackle and then they went out and signed guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings through free agency. There is also a question about the center position as well and if Phil Costa, who struggled at times in 2011 will hold onto the job. Should Cowboys fans really expect improvement in 2012 with all these questions still out there or should it be considered a work in progress? With so many changes coming there has to be a level of concern.
Let’s start with the tackles. Tyron Smith had a solid rookie season playing on the right side and now the Cowboys believe he is ready to move to the left side to protect Tony Romo’s blind side. That means Doug Free who struggled at times in 2011 will move back to the right side where he played in 2010. Can Smith, who is only 21 years old be expected to adapt quickly to the left side after being in the NFL for only one season? Will Free get back to how he played back in 2010 on the right side? Even though the tackles are set for the Cowboys offensive line there are still questions that can’t be ignored.
At the guard positions the Cowboys had players like Kyle Kosier, Montrae Holland, Bill Nagy and Derrick Dockery playing in 2011. All are gone from the team except for Nagy. With the contracts that Bernadeau and Livings signed one would think they would be stepping right in at the tackle positions. But hold on a minute, it was just announced that Bernadeau just had hip surgery that will keep him out until the middle of August if not longer. He is going to miss important time with the rest of the offensive linemen in the OTAs and training camp. Although Bernadeau is a four year veteran how can he not fall behind the others and once he gets back on the field how fast will he be able to catch up? Livings is a four year veteran just like Bernadeau and will most likely start at the left guard position. Behind Bernadeau and Livings are players just waiting to show they can start for the Cowboys. There will be competition throughout camp between Bill Nagy, who only played in four games in 2011 before getting injured, David Arkin who was inactive all of 2011 and undrafted rookie free agent Ronald Leary. There is so much inexperience between those three players that it has to be a concern for the Cowboys.
Phil Costa started all of 2011 at center and looks to keep his job in 2012. But Jason Garrett has let it be known that the competition will be open. That means players like David Arkin and Kevin Kowalski will be given every opportunity to win the job the job at center. There was also reports that Bernadeau and Nagy were going to be tested at center, but now with Bernadeau’s injury that may not happen. As with the tackles and guards there are questions at center as well.
With this group of players who are either new to the team, inexperienced, playing different positions and not having played together, it’s going to be very interesting to see how things shape up for the Cowboys offensive line. For an offensive line to become solid they need to play together so that they can get to know each other and their tendencies. Whichever players become the starting five it’s going to take time for them to jell together. Time will tell if the Cowboys have made the right decisions heading into the 2012 season. New offensive line coach Bill Callahan has his work cut out for him as he tries to shape a line that will hopefully get the Cowboys to the next level. The Cowboys have a mix of players with experience like Free, Costa, Livings and Bernadeau and others who are young and inexperienced like Smith, Nagy, Arkin and Leary. Now it’s a matter of getting the right combination together to form the starting five. Hopes may be high with this group of players, but with so many questions and so much uncertainty it’s hard not to be concerned as the Cowboys move closer to the 2012 season.