So many questions and concerns when it comes to the Cowboys offensive line

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.

Were the Cowboys Right Last Night?

Let me start by saying I am glad I was right in my earlier post. Tyron Smith was the right pick to make. While it is not flashy or exciting and will not generate more interest or attention (like Dez Bryant did), it is what is right for a team trying to get back to the playoffs.

If you question taking an offensive linemen, take a look at which teams took OL in round 1. The Cowboys, of course, were the first team to strike at the position. Patriots, Colts, Eagles, Seahawks, Bears, Packers all drafted offensive linemen. Those teams all have in common that, minus the Packers, they all won their respective divisions, and then the Packers went on to win the whole thing. Maybe this is a sign that this is in fact how you build a franchise.

Who was on the board that really made sense to take? Reports this week were that the Cowboys did not like Nick Fairley and the belief was that even if he was there in round two, the team would pass on him. So he was likely never seriously considered. Cameron Jordan and JJ Watt both were considered here and I would believe Prince Amukamara. There are plenty of defensive ends to be had still and cornerback is not the teams’ greatest need.

I believe Jerry Jones did the best thing he possibly could. When the league year starts, Marc Colombo will be released and Doug Free, according to Stephen Jones on Tuesday, will get a nice contract extension. The Cowboys have their two long-term tackles now. Tony Romo should be very happy as should Jason Garrett. As should the fans.

2011 NFL Draft: What The Cowboys Should Do

(This is my first of hopefully many contributions to this site and I hope you enjoy my posts. Thanks for reading! Go Cowboys!)

Is offensive line the right move to make? Jerry Jones has never selected an offensive linemen in the first round since he has been the Cowboys owner. Even though he played o-line at Arkansas. Seems a bit odd. But even he found offensive line boring and not flashy, I believe it might be the safe and correct pick in this case.

Tyron Smith out of USC is one rumored possibility for the Cowboys along with some other tackles and defensive ends Cameron Jordan and JJ Watt also rumored as options. The running game really struggled last season and Tony Romo (when he played) and then Jon Kitna did not have that long to throw. Certainly you only have so long to make something happen but they were not even given nearly enough time.

Smith would start right away at RT, opposite Doug Free. This selection would spell the end for Marc Colombo of course. Smith can help protect Romo and hopefully improve the running game, especially short yardage situations.

The Cowboys have plenty of needs but when I watched this team in 2010, the main problems that I saw were all in the defensive backfield more than anything. That is why I would consider taking Prince Amukamara with the ninth pick. Terrance Newman is getting up there in age and Michael Jenkins was bad at times last year. Neither Gerald Sensabaugh nor Alan Ball should be trusted to start at safety again and I think the Prince would be the right selection.

Then you can grab an offensive lineman in the second round and go with safety and defensive end/linebacker later. I do believe Dallas is in pretty good shape all around but just have a couple holes to fill, which they can accomplish by drafting well.

So while I would consider improving the secondary, I do believe that offensive tackle is the right, safe pick in this case for the Cowboys mainly because my hope is that an overhaul of the o-line can improve the running game, which can improve the passing game, which can give the Cowboys the lead and hopefully take some pressure off the defense, and the secondary. Everything has a cause and effect and you are supposed to build from the inside out. The Cowboys are a flashy team and Jerry likes to make splashy picks usually but in this particular case, let’s just be safe.

2011 NFL Draft: If James Williamson was in Charge of the Cowboys…

To readers of Lone Star Struck: I’m sorry that I have not been here in a while. I’ve been swamped with school, and I knew that Kelly and the other writers have things covered mostly, so the breaking news pieces aren’t needed from me.

However, I needed to give my thoughts about the draft that is just tomorrow. Here is what I would do.

Everyone has a opinion. Everyone has an idea of what they would do if they were in charge. Many may have similar notions as others, but each one is somehow unique when it comes to detail.

Well, lets assume that I’m in charge of the Cowboys draft for one day. Lets pause momentarily while I laugh maniacally for several seconds.

Okay, now for some serious business.

I’ve been talking to a buddy of mine named J.D. He’s one of the most brilliant sports minds I’ve ever encountered, and we routinely text each other about sports, mainly our favorite football team, the Cowboys. But, we can talk about the draft or other players or even other teams.

So, today I was on the elliptical at the Fitness Zone when I get a text from good ole J.D. Well, I have ten minutes left to burn some calories on the machine, so I finished my workout, then walked over to the treadmill for a small walk and checked the message.

After the usual talking about Ryan Mallett, Blaine Gabbert and even a mention of previous drafts, the Cowboys pick came up, and J.D. and I both agreed that Dallas needs to trade the pick.

We also agreed on what players that he and I liked the most. We are both high on Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson, Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey, and Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castanzo. Despite rumors that Dallas wants University of Southern California offensive tackle, Tyron Smith, J.D. and I are not high on him.

So, as we are texting, and I’m on the treadmill, a lightbulb the size of the sun turns on over my head, and I relay my idea to J.D.

Since the Cowboys have the ninth overall pick, they are in a prime position to draft a quarterback in a quarterback rich draft. And not just quarterback, but also a position for Nebraska defensive back Prince Amakamura and Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.

Teams with mid-first round draft choices would love to move up and draft a player they believe will not fall to them, so that makes Dallas a prime candidate for a big trade. Dallas does not have a giant need that can be addressed at just the ninth pick, so not only COULD they move back a few spots and get more draft picks in exchange for a trade, but they actually SHOULD do that.

Before I go further, let me give you a key part of  the draft order real quick, so that you can follow along with my points.

9: Dallas Cowboys
10: Washington Redskins
11: Houston Texans
12: Minnesota Vikings
13: Detroit Lions
14: St. Louis Rams
15: Miami Dolphins
16: Jacksonville Jaguars
17: New England Patriots (Originally Oakland Raiders)
18: San Diego Chargers
19: New York Giants

I’m telling J.D. that a lot of quarterbacks like Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett or even Blaine Gabbert could/will be there at the ninth pick, and there is something that every football fan needs to know about the draft, so listen up.

Teams that need quarterbacks tend to reach for quarterbacks. By reach, I mean they either draft a quarterback with a too high draft selection or they trade up to grab a quarterback and pay a king’s ransom for the rookie signal caller.

Dallas has one of the premier draft picks, and they also are ahead of the Redskins who have the 10th overall pick. The Redskins are likely to draft a quarterback, so a trade with a quarterback-needy team for the ninth overall pick and maybe some more picks, like a second round pick for 2011 or a first rounder from 2012 is very reasonable.

There are three teams that I would definitely consider trading with. The Minnesota Vikings at 12, the Miami Dolphins at 15, and the Jacksonville Jaguars at 16. Any other team past the Chargers pick at 18 is a no because as you can see the New York Giants possess the 19th pick.

The New York Giants most glaring needs are offensive tackle and offensive guard. The whole point of Dallas trading the ninth pick is to get some more picks while still getting the player they desire, which if I’m running the draft, is either Anthony Castanzo or Mike Pouncey. Those two guys will not last past the Giants at 19, so any team past the Giants is out.

J.D. and I both think the Cowboys should pick up the phones and call the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Vikings and let them know that if they want a guarantee that they’ll get the quarterback they want, and not the guy that the Redskins passed up, they’ll have to pay the right price. I’d definitely secure their 2011 first round pick, 2011 second round pick, and maybe even a 2012 first round pick.

The Minnesota Vikings have a talented team, but have made some bad decisions. They did not draft a quarterback to learn from Brett Favre, so they were expecting to be the champions and worry about the quarterback issue when Favre finally retired.

Well, their lotto scratch-off ticket did not earn them the top prize or any prize. The Vikings now have needs at an aging offensive line, a weak secondary, and a quarterback. They are not as high on Joe Webb as they’d like to be, so now there is a thought of them trading for Donovan McNabb from the Redskins.

However, since they don’t know if they can get McNabb due to the lockout, the Vikings will probably reach for a quarterback, making them prime candidates to trade with Dallas.

I’d definitely squeeze the Vikings like I’d squeeze an orange for juice. They would be more than willing to pay a very high price to get a chance to draft a quarterback before the Redskins.

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, that’s for certain.

Next, the Miami Dolphins are being coy about wanting Ryan Mallett. Ryan Mallett has character issues building up, but the Dolphins took a chance on Dan Marino in 1983 when there was a huge rumor that he had tested positive for drugs. The test results had been kept hidden from the public, so Marino fell to the Dolphins 27th pick.

I think the Dolphins see themselves as being a legitimate quarterback away from being a real Super Bowl contender, and they are not wrong. The only needs they have are quarterback and running back. Mark Ingram is probably not worth the 15th overall pick, and they can attempt at free agency to secure Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown or replace them.

Also, before any Dolphin faithful announce to the world that Chad Henne is “the guy”, may I remind them that “the guy” is not doing his job right or else they wouldn’t have been 7-9.

Ryan Mallett, however, may not slip past the Washington Redskins or the Minnesota Vikings. I’ve been torn on this kid myself, and I used to think he’d be a bad choice, but recently, I’ve found myself wondering if Dallas should take him. I like how he was honest about making mistakes in the past and is willing to change. That’s a sign of maturity and change.

If he becomes even 1/4th of what Marino was, the Dolphins are in the playoffs.

Lastly, the Jaguars are a team that doesn’t need a quarterback “immediately,” but David Garrard is 34, and why not draft a good quarterback that can replace Garrard in a few years?

I think the Jaguars will be hesitant to make the deal because they’ll probably want a guy that will fall to them, but if Jerry can use his Texas charm on them and make them see that Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett is an amazing prospect, then they may take the bait.

From there, the Cowboys simply just make the teams sweat a little bit and keep the auction going. Whoever gives up the most gets the ninth overall draft choice, and the quarterback they want.

As I was working that through my mind on the treadmill, another thought, well actually it was a text from J.D., hit me. Not only do teams want quarterbacks, but the ninth pick also could secure other skill players, namely Prince Amakamura and Julio Jones should they fall.

After discussing with J.D., we came to the conclusion that there are four other teams that might want to trade up for the ninth overall pick should either Julio Jones or Prince Amakamura fall. Beside Minnesota, the Detroit Lions also have a need for a cornerback like Amakamura, and there is no way that Amakamura falls past the Houston Texans at 12. The Texans had the worst pass defense to possibly ever grace a football field. You can guarantee that Amakamura is not dropping past them.

The Detroit Lions are definitely a team that is on the verge of actually contending, and Amakamura could definitely help out there. So, if Detroit is willing to fork over enough, they can get the ninth pick and a possible shutdown corner. They definitely need one after ranking 16th in passing yards allowed.

Now, the likelihood of that happening is small because teams don’t generally reach for cornerbacks, but quarterbacks and wide receivers? Much more likely.

Which brings us to the idea that if Julio Jones falls to the Cowboys, the Redskins are also a prime target for him to go to with their best receiver, Santana Moss, hitting free agency whenever free agency occurs. Julio Jones is a very highly touted receiver, so teams that want that big wideout will definitely want to trade up to secure him.

The teams that need a receiver are: the St. Louis Rams at 14, the New England Patriots at 17, and the San Diego Chargers at 18.

The Rams have the biggest need for receiver out of them all. Their two top receivers had season-ending injuries last year, and Sam Bradford needs a real legitimate target to have besides Danny Amendola. The Rams may be willing to exchange a great deal for Julio Jones.

The Patriots are the ideal trading mate. They have so many draft picks that it is ridiculous. They have the 17th and 28th overall picks, and they have the 33rd overall pick, which is the top pick of the second round. If you want an ideal partner, it is them. I’d love to have those three picks. However, the Patriots have those picks because they are shrewd rather than stupid.

J.D. believes that Belichick would want a chance to draft a big play wideout in Julio Jones because they traded Randy Moss and nobody else stretches the field like him.

J.D., I have to disagree man. I just don’t believe that Belichick will want to trade all that or even part of that for Julio Jones. I wish he would, but I doubt the Patriots trade up when they’ve tried to trade down.

However, I’d still give Belichick a call and see if I don’t get a “No thank you” from him. Getting the 17th, 28th, and 33rd picks would be a huge acquisition. Heck, even getting the 17th and 33rd would be huge for Dallas.

Lastly, the San Diego Chargers are a team that had special teams mishaps cost them the playoffs. The 2010 Chargers are a perfect example forever of how special teams impacts the game. They were second in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense. With numbers like that, they should’ve made the playoffs and maybe even the Super Bowl, but they lost at least three or four games due to horrible special teams.

Instead of being 12-4 or 13-3, they were a 9-7 failure.

Now, the Chargers do need a real receiver for Philip Rivers. Vincent Jackson is still franchised, but he may hold out again, and A.J. Smith is like a bulldog with a bone in his mouth. He is not going to sway from his stance. Jackson will either not play or he’ll play on Smith’s terms.

That’s part of the reason why I highly doubt Dallas will squeeze the Chargers of anything. Not only are they already an elite team without a top wideout and since A.J. Smith is one of the most stubborn people you would meet in any walk of life, I have doubts as to the abilities of not just Jerry Jones, but anyone, to get that guy to budge.

He’s the guy who drafted Eli Manning when Eli Manning did not want to play for San Diego, and he held Manning in his grasp until the New York Giants traded Philip Rivers, a 2005 first round pick that became Shawn Merriman, a 2004 third round pick that was used to get Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding, and a 2004 fifth round pick that eventually was traded to Tampa Bay for Roman Oben who was a very good left tackle for the Chargers for about two years.

So, if Smith can gut the Giants when he was in a lose-type of a situation by drafting somebody who had publicly said that he did not want to play for the Chargers, then I don’t think even Jerry Jones could get that guy in a bad deal.

That’s what the Cowboys would do if I were in charge. Will they do it? It is possible, but is it probable? That remains to be seen.

Why should Dallas do this though? Can’t they just draft whomever they want at the ninth overall spot and not worry themselves with trades?

They could do that, but it would not be prudent. They need more picks people. It is the sixth rounders at the end of the day who put you over the top. They could get a few more picks for more players and more talent and still come out with the player that they want in the end.

Also, there is one more side. Rookie players are paid on a ratio to where they are drafted. If Dallas drafts a top 10 player, he’ll want top 10 player money, but if he’s draft 15th or 16th overall, he can only ask for top 20 player money.

Not only can Dallas get more talent, but they can save themselves money by trading down.

I won’t guarantee Dallas does trade, but I will say that I’ll be surprised if the commissioner announces Dallas’s pick at the number nine spot.

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