Offensive line fixes are complex

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Bill Callahan strolled off the practice fields Tuesday with a lot on his mind.

He's trying to coach the current group of offensive line players on the Cowboys and make sure he's got the offense going in the right direction as the offensive coordinator.

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The direction of the offense overall seems OK after two preseason games, but the offensive line isn't.

Ronald Leary is the latest offensive linemen to go down with an injury. The left guard will undergo minor surgery on his knee, putting his status for the 2013 season opener against the New York Giants in doubt.

This summer, the Cowboys have lost Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Kevin Kowalski, Ryan Cook, Ray Dominguez and now Leary to some sort of injury.

The projected starters at guard have health issues.

In a desperate move, the team offered a contract to Brian Waters, who hasn't played in over a year. This offer came after Brandon Moore backed out of a deal with the team to retire.

Waters is a Pro Bowl guard, but who knows what type of shape he's in and if he can quickly morph into a starter without significant training camp practices.

Livings got hurt early in training camp and underwent minor knee surgery. There's talk about cutting Livings and just absorbing $1.7 million against the salary cap. Currently, the Cowboys have just a shade over $7 million in cap space available. Stephen Jones likes to have salary cap space to play with during the season to sign a veteran in case of injury.

He might have to do it.

Leary was having a solid camp until his injury. Kowalski was battling David Arkin for a backup spot at right guard before injuries ended the fight. The competition between the two is split, but it wasn't good enough to give the Cowboys a comfort level of starting them in a regular season game.

So here we are with injuries for an offensive line that's supposed to protect a $100 million quarterback in Tony Romo.

Second-guessing the Cowboys' decisions not to sign Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs in free agency last year would be unfair. The Cowboys grabbed Livings, a productive starter with the Bengals, and Bernadeau, a talented player with the Panthers, in free agency that year. The price paid to Livings and Bernadeau was nearly a combined $30 million. Grubbs signed a five-year $35 million deal with the New Orleans Saints to replace Nicks, who signed with Tampa Bay.

Solutions for this fix are complex.

The Cowboys could increase their offer to Waters, move rookie center Travis Frederick to one of the guard spots and insert last year's starting center, Phil Costa, back to the first team. If you move Frederick, do you stunt his development? Do you weaken the center spot by moving Costa there over Frederick?


The third preseason game is Saturday afternoon in Glendale, Ariz., and the Cowboys' projected starters for the first-team offensive line are as follows: left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Arkin, center Frederick, right guard Bernadeau and right tackle Doug Free.

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Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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