Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

KEY PLAYERS

Marc Colombo – He’s the most predictable cut once the lockout ends, and it’s unfortunate as he’s a great locker room presence.  The lack of depth at tackle, especially with the lockout giving coaches less time to work with guys like Sam Young or rookie Tyron Smith, might have helped Colombo stick around if not for the financial issues.  But with Dallas needing to shed salary due to the rumored cap figure, there doesn’t seem to be a way keep Marc on the team. 

Andre Gurode – While his 2010 Pro Bowl nod was excessive, Gurode still deserves credit as a solid and reliable presence on this line.  It’s funny to think back to his early days under Parcells and how hard it was for Gurode to find his way in the league.  Now he’s a perennial Pro Bowler, but even that hasn’t stopped complaints about his long-snapping issues.

Leonard Davis – When a guard is making left tackle money, his play is always going to be under scrutiny.  Davis found himself in the doghouse after being benched during a game for his play, but the midseason coaching change and the increase of physicality in practices seemed to work well for Leonard as he improved during the second half of the season.  Though his salary has made him a talking point for being released this summer, the uncertainty at other spots and the addition of a rookie right tackle make it unlikely that he will be leaving.

Doug Free – With our recent history of drafting offensive linemen, it’s pretty stunning to have a guy who is one of the best free agent prospects at his position.  Cowboys fans generally have no fears about Jerry Jones being able to hold on to players, but things could get interesting if another team is willing to pay Free franchise money.  It’s not likely that Free would command that high a price on the open market, especially since his one full season came during a down year for the team.  He’ll be back.

Kyle Kosier – He may not be on Free’s level in terms of free agent interest, but Kosier is still a solid starter with the versatility to find work anywhere.  He seems to show up in most of our highlight running plays as the guy making the key block to break things open.  I’ve never been too impressed by Montrae Holland’s work, so I hope they aren’t going to let Kosier walk for his benefit.

DRAFT CLASS IMPACT

It finally happened; a top pick was spent on an offensive lineman in Dallas.  Tyron Smith does not enter the NFL with same “sure thing” hype as other Top 10 tackle picks have in the past, but there is plenty to be excited about.  My favorite thing about him was the reaction that came from his visit to Dallas, with the biggest plus being comments about his character and intelligence.  If his work ethic and mental acumen are on par with his raw physical gifts, then this guy could be as good as they come.

FREE AGENCY POTENTIAL

Dallas will be heavily involved in the free agent market, but from the standpoint of trying to hold on to their own guys.  If for some reason the price tag gets too big on Free, then we might see them bring back Colombo before they’d bring in a new guy.  Same thing with Kosier leaving; they probably give Holland the job before signing a new starter.  However, if this team is serious about contending in 2011, they can’t afford to take those chances.  There will be several free agents at both tackle and guard who could replace either of our guys if needed.

2011 OUTLOOK

To be honest, I always felt like it was a slight overstatement when our o-line was being called “the league’s best” a few years ago.  It was very good in spurts but it never seemed to really dominate a game or give Romo consistently reliable protection.  Therefore, I was probably not as surprised as most when the line struggled so much last year.

That said, I don’t see the road to recovery as that difficult.  I think Gurode and especially Davis were playing better toward the end of the year.  Free should also continue to improve.  I’m not going to assume that Tyron Smith, especially after the lockout, will be an improvement over Colombo right away but I’d hope for that by season’s end.  As long as they bring back Kosier or replace him with another free agent of similar ability, the improvements across the board should add up and give us a line that can playing winning football.

The biggest issue will be depth.  Assuming he’s even kept on the roster, Holland will be the only experienced backup unless other low-price free agents are added.  Can Sam Young play in a pinch?  Will rookie David Arkin live up to the “steal” label from draft analysts?  We don’t know, but take some solace in this; at least Alex Barron will be gone.

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