Dallas Cowboys: Leonard Davis

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

June, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The look of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has changed dramatically over the last three seasons.

In 2011, the Cowboys started the process of tearing down the line, moving on from Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. In 2012, they replaced Kyle Kosier.

But in stripping down the line, the Cowboys didn’t have ready-made replacements, with the exception of Tyron Smith, who was their first-round pick in 2011. Bill Nagy was an undersized guard and seventh-round pick. He started four games before getting hurt. The Cowboys recalled Montrae Holland to the roster and started him for 10 games. They relied on Derrick Dockery as well. At center, they went with undersized Phil Costa, who was undrafted in 2010. Kevin Kowalski, another undrafted player in 2011, was a key reserve.

This spring the Cowboys have a line with three first-round picks in Smith, now at left tackle, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Doug Free is the only holdover, moving from left tackle to right tackle.

This offseason the Cowboys have stripped down the defensive line. A year ago at this time, Jerry Jones called it the strength of the team. DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos. Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins. Jay Ratliff is with the Chicago Bears. Anthony Spencer is coming back from microfracture knee surgery.

“There is an analogy there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger.”

Like the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t have any ready-made replacements on the defensive line. Instead of going with late-round or undrafted players, the Cowboys are going with low-cost veterans with questions about health, consistency or both.

They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency. They kept Spencer on a one-year deal for short money. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys,” Garrett said. “Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming.”

Rebuilding is not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it sure can be viewed that way at Valley Ranch. The preferred word is retooling. The Cowboys have retooled the offensive line. They are in the process of retooling the defensive line.

There might be a question of quality, but there is no question of quantity.

“The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players,” Garrett said. “If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”

Garrett went on to mention Leon Lett, Chad Hennings, Jimmie Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas and Russell Maryland.

“If you can have some of those guys play 30 snaps instead of 60 snaps or 15 snaps instead of 30 snaps, you’re going to be so much better,” Garrett said.

Nick Hayden played a defensive-line high 821 snaps in 2013 after being unemployed in 2012. Hatcher played 747 in 15 games. George Selvie, who was signed during training camp, played 744. Six of his seven sacks came in the first nine games.

“We played a lot of snaps last year,” Selvie said. “Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”

To carry out the offensive line analogy, Lawrence can be viewed like Smith, a premium pick at a premium spot. And the job is hardly close to being over. Melton, Okoye, Spencer, Selvie and Hayden all could be on one-year deals. Mincey signed a two-year deal. McClain is on a three-year deal.

“The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front,” Garrett said. “If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”

The retooling is in its infant stages, like the offensive line in 2011. The Cowboys have to replenish the defensive line in 2015 and beyond with more premium picks the way they have the offensive line.

Romo happy Dallas building through line

May, 22, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo never really sweated the possible selection of Johnny Manziel by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the draft.

He was more than happy to see the Cowboys select Zack Martin in the first round. That gives Romo three first-round picks up front in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and Martin. It also had him remembering what it was like early on in his time as the Cowboys’ starter.

“When I first started playing we had some pretty good players that did some really good things for the organization, and I think we’re building that back to that point,” Romo said.

In 2006, left tackle Flozell Adams and center Andre Gurode made the Pro Bowl. In 2007, the Cowboys signed Leonard Davis to a big contract and he made the Pro Bowl with Adams and Gurode. Right tackle Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier were solid players as well.

In 2011, the Cowboys dismantled the line, cutting Gurode, Davis and Colombo and started the rebuilding process by drafting Smith with the ninth overall pick.

“As a quarterback, that half-second, that tenth of a second can make the difference in completing a pass or not,” Romo said. “A lot of that is dictated as to whether or not you have that extra time. I think it goes to show the organization is building through the lines and that’s the way you win in the National Football League late in the year.”

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

Cowboys are getting younger

March, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- These are not your father's Dallas Cowboys, so to speak.

Once a team stocked with enough players to field a softball team in an over-30 league, the Cowboys are getting young.

With the releases of DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, the Cowboys have three starters over 30 years old in Tony Romo, who turns 34 next month, Jason Witten, who turns 32 in May and Doug Free, who turned 30 in January.

The only other thirty-somethings on the roster are backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who is 31, and long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who turns 33 on Thursday.

Not included on the list are free agents Anthony Spencer (30) and Jason Hatcher (31).

Ware turns 32 in July and Austin turns 30 in June.

The Cowboys have refused to use the word "rebuild" over the last three seasons but they have re-tooled their roster moving away from Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo on the offensive line and Ware, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman on the defensive line.

They have made the decision to not restructure the contracts of Witten and Brandon Carr, who turns 28 in May, unless absolutely necessary so they do not push more money into the salary cap in future years.

For years people have called the NFL a young man's game. The Cowboys are moving to a younger man's team.

Cowboys line could have continuity in 2014

January, 17, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Continuity is a buzzword every year when it comes to offensive line play. For the Dallas Cowboys it is no different.

The Cowboys could have continuity on the line in 2014 for the first time in a long time.

The last time the Cowboys returned the same line from the previous year came in 2008 when they had left tackle Flozell Adams, left guard Kyle Kosier, center Andre Gurode, right guard Leonard Davis and right tackle Marc Colombo.

Kosier played in only three games in 2008 because of a foot injury, but those five guys were in place at the beginning of the 2009 season when the Cowboys went 11-5 and made their most recent playoff appearance. Colombo missed seven games with a broken leg and Doug Free saw the first action of his career.

In 2013 four of the Cowboys five starters at left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle played every game. Mackenzy Bernadeau started 11 games at right guard and Brian Waters started five before his season ended with a torn triceps.

The Cowboys can go into 2014 feeling good about Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Free. The Cowboys could look to make moves at left and/or right guard with Ronald Leary and Bernadeau through the draft or in free agency but know they know what they have if they can't.

"It's never set in stone until it's done," Bernadeau said.

The line helped produce the first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 in DeMarco Murray and protected well enough with the interior more stout than it had been in previous years.

"I want to say it sets the standard for us," Bernadeau said of the late-season success with the running game. "It's one of those deals where we know what we're capable of doing and we want to do better. We have the highest expectations of ourselves. It's a mix of us getting it done up front and holding those expectations high."

Final Exam: Sit back in free agency

January, 8, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season, they obviously have a ton of needs.

Every offseason is the same story. Fans get their hopes up that the Cowboys will spend a ton of money in free agency -- even if they don't have a ton to spend -- and go get insert-name-here because that guy has to be better than whatever the Cowboys have on the roster.

The needs are obvious: defensive line, secondary, linebacker and defensive line again. You could always add offensive line help and possibly wide receiver. On an 8-8 team, every position needs help.

But the price matters when it comes to free agency. The Cowboys will be able to get under the salary cap without an issue. They could even get far enough under the cap to be big spenders if they choose.

Here's a word to the wise: don't choose.

The last big-money player the Cowboys signed was cornerback Brandon Carr, who received $50 million over five years in 2012. Is there a smidge of buyer's remorse on that one?

Teams have to overpay in free agency. The Cowboys gave Carr what was the going rate for a cornerback in unrestricted free agency. He has been better than the other big-money corner that year, Cortland Finnegan, but he has not changed the fortunes of the defense. In 2005 the Cowboys gave Anthony Henry the going rate for a cornerback at $5 million a year. He played fairly well with 12 interceptions in four seasons before he was traded for Jon Kitna in 2009.

The Cowboys laid out a huge-free agent contract for Leonard Davis ($7 million a year) and Davis had some solid seasons but not enough of them. He was cut after the 2010 season.

The best way to attack free agency is with moderate priced players. One of the best free-agent signings the Cowboys ever had was La'Roi Glover and in part because of what they paid to get him.

Prime free agents have little chance to earn what their given. Carr slumped in 2013, especially at the end of the season. He will have to be Superman in some eyes to justify the $10 million a year price tag in 2014.

So when you go through the lists of available free-agent defensive ends, defensive tackles, outside linebackers, safeties, running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen, do not get seduced by the names.

The Cowboys have paid names in the past and it has not worked. They have gambled on up-and-coming players as well, like Carr. It's not too late for him to turn things around. An offseason can be a great refresher.

The best bet for the Cowboys and Jones is to lie low when the market opens.

Tyron Smith named second-team All-Pro

January, 3, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Last week Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. On Friday, he was named second-team All Pro by the Associated Press.

Smith
Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns and Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles were named to the first team. San Francisco’s Joe Staley was the other second-team tackle.

Smith was playing as well as any tackle in football late in the season. He allowed only one sack all season and the Cowboys averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 53 runs behind their left tackle, which was seventh-best in the NFL.

A first-round pick in 2011, Smith has missed only one game in his career. He is signed through 2014, however, the Cowboys have an option for 2015 they need to exercise by the spring. The Cowboys want to sign him to a long-term contract at some point.

The Cowboys have not had a first-team All-Pro offensive lineman since Leonard Davis and Flozell Adams in 2007.

Only 23 years old, Smith still has plenty of chances to make the first team.

Rebuilding of line paying off for Cowboys

December, 20, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- When Jason Garrett was named the Dallas Cowboys head coach on Jan. 5, 2011 he set out to refurbish the offensive line.

The Cowboys purged Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo. They released Kyle Kosier the following year.

The Cowboys are seeing the fruits of the rebuilding now.

The Cowboys started the rebuild by taking Tyron Smith in the first round of the 2011 draft. Mackenzy Bernadeau was added as an undrafted free agent at right guard and left guard Ronald Leary was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012. This year, the Cowboys made center Travis Frederick a first-round pick.

The holdover has been Doug Free, who has rebounded with a solid season at right tackle.

“It’s a hard thing to do,” Garrett said. “It started with Tyron Smith, it continued with some other decisions that we’ve made. And then certainly Travis Frederick came into the mix this offseason and has helped us. You need to have young, cornerstone players on your offensive line, and we’ve gone through that process over the last couple of years. I think we’re getting where we need to be.”

As the Cowboys move down the stretch, the line is playing better than it ever has since Garrett took over. In the last five weeks, the Cowboys have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team. DeMarco Murray is 23 yards away from 1,000 on the season and he missed two games with a knee injury.

“It’s unfortunate that we haven’t won these games because I felt like our line is playing well,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Great camaraderie up front. We’ve really been able to run the ball and they create big holes. It’s good to see our line play that well. They work harder than anybody on our football team.”

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys have a gaggle of candidates for the interior of the offensive line to choose from.

The team was spurned by guard Brandon Moore on Wednesday morning after he agreed to a deal but then decided he wanted to retire.

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Thursday morning before leaving for Oakland, the site of Friday's second preseason game, the Cowboys created a roster spot by releasing guard Jeff Olson, who recovered from a concussion.

Among some notable names available on the free agent market are Deuce Lutui, Bobbie Williams, Cooper Carlisle, Leonard Davis, Reggie Wells, Derrick Dockery, Antoine Caldwell, Jamey Richard, Rex Hadnot and Montrae Holland.

Dockery, Holland and Davis are former Cowboys, but there are also players with ties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan available for a potential deal. Moore played for Callahan with the New York Jets.

"The way Jason (Garrett) looks at this thing, we sign guys and they come in here and they compete," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "I don’t think anything is necessarily a given at those spots."

What also helps is finding an offensive linemen who is familiar to the zone blocking scheme Callahan uses.

"I don't think this scheme is anymore difficult than any other," Jones said. "The guys that are out there they will adjust and we'll play the guys accordingly."

When the Cowboys play the Raiders on Friday night the starting guards will be Ronald Leary on the left side and Mackenzy Bernadeau at right guard with Travis Frederick at center.

Money isn't an issue for the Cowboys because the team has nearly $10 million in salary cap space. Jones, however, likes to have space available in case the Cowboys need to sign a free agent during the season.

"It's a work in progress. If we see opportunities, we'll look at them," Jones said. "We'll also be patient. We're not going to just push a panic button and say this has to be fixed tomorrow."

Cowboys talk about right tackle spot

December, 7, 2012
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IRVING, Texas – Doug Free’s return to right tackle this season has been a struggle for the Cowboys.

Patience with Free might be running out. The Cowboys were able to see Jermey Parnell in a full game on Thanksgiving when left tackle Tyron Smith could not play because of a high ankle sprain.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to play him,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He does get work in practice, and we’ll talk about that right tackle spot.”

Garrett has not made many lineup changes because of poor play since he’s been this team’s offensive coordinator in 2007. Leonard Davis was moved out briefly a few years ago but regained his spot. That Free’s spot is being talked about could mean Parnell enters Sunday’s game at Cincinnati if Free struggles again.

Earlier in the season the Cowboys had Mackenzy Bernadeau and Derrick Dockery split time in practice after Bernadeau got off to a slow start. Bernadeau responded and has played fairly well since.

Parnell has developed into a favorite of owner and general manager Jerry Jones after joining the team two years ago from New Orleans practice squad. While the Redskins’ game provided him with his most extensive action, he has seen work mostly in three-tight end sets during the year.

“That might not sound very significant, but it’s really significant for a guy who hasn’t played very much to go out there in those critical situations,” Garrett said. “And to be honest with you, early on in the year, he didn’t handle it very well. But we felt it was important to persist with that, keep giving him chances. He’s gotten better and better just in handling the situation, the snap count, his assignments, their adjustments. He improved, and I think it helped him when he played when Tyron was out.”

Derrick Dockery gets some snaps with starters

October, 12, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys backup guard Derrick Dockery received some first-team snaps at right guard Friday.

Despite struggling this season, Mackenzy Bernadeau is the starter and is expected to remain there for the Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday.

Dockery was signed during training camp after the Cowboys endured several injuries to the interior of the offensive line.

"Yes, I'm getting a little bit," Dockery said of his practice time with the first team. "I don't know what it means. They're just preparing me for any opportunity that may happen in the game."

Dockery started two games in 2011 and has played four offensive snaps this season. He started at left guard for an injured Bill Nagy in Week 2 and earned the start over an injured Montrae Holland in last season's final game.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said this week that he likes Dockery's size (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) and that it has helped Dockery stay on the active roster.

If Bernadeau struggles this week, a lineup change could occur.

The Cowboys have benched offensive linemen in the past. Guard Leonard Davis was benched for poor play during a game and replaced by Holland. Davis later returned to that game when Holland suffered an eye injury.

Doug Free adjusting to right tackle

August, 2, 2012
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OXNARD, Calif. – When Doug Free broke into the Cowboys’ starting lineup in 2009 it was at right tackle for an injured Marc Colombo.

Over the next two seasons, he started every game at left tackle, but the Cowboys flipped Free and last year’s No. 1 pick Tyron Smith to the opposite sides for 2012.

Even after an offseason of acclimating to right tackle again, Free finds it to be a work in progress.

“I’ve definitely got a lot better than I was, but I’m still working on it,” Free said. “Some of the pass protection stuff I just haven’t found my rhythm yet. It’s coming and I’ll get there.”

Free is basically learning the position again.

“Getting used to kicking with my opposite leg, my set up, learning my angles with pass protection,” Free said. “I didn’t have my best day (Wednesday) but there’s always things to work on.”

Free is also getting accustomed to being the old guy in terms of continuous service with the Cowboys as he enters his sixth season. Over the last two years, the Cowboys have let go of Leonard Davis, Colombo, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier, who were staples on the line for years.

“It’s pretty weird,” Free said. “Since I started here, I came in with guys all in their seventh, eighth, ninth year. To finally be here as one of the older guys on the offensive line is weird. ... Every year you lose one or two guys. It’s kind of gone slowly. I think it would’ve been a shock if they left the same year. I had a good time with those guys and they taught me a lot and definitely helped me get me where I am.”

For Tony Romo, the line has changed

April, 24, 2012
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IRVING, Texas – For most of his career as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback, Tony Romo knew he would see Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo in front of him on the offensive line.

Over the last three seasons, all of them have departed.

Adams was the first following the 2009 season. Gurode, Davis and Colombo were gone entering the 2011 season. Kosier was released earlier this offseason.

Romo’s 2011 tackles – Doug Free and Tyron Smith – will switch sides in 2012 and there could be a change at center depending on how the Cowboys work the upcoming draft.

In March, the Cowboys signed guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings to free-agent contracts.

“I think the coaching staff likes a couple of these guys,” Romo said. “Some of the guys I was with for a long run we had some great football and played in some great football games together and I’ll always be appreciative of Kyle and all those boys. And it’s kind of slowly the start of a new set of people up front.”

Earlier this offseason, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he made a mistake in changing the guard of the line so quickly and moving to a smaller, inexperienced interior. He felt that played with Romo’s thoughts about pressure up the middle.

“I just think you’re comfortable when you have a nice protected pocket,” Romo said. “At times you have that and you’re just always trying to get it to where that part of it feels good all of the time.”

As for the Free-Smith switch, Romo joked, “As long as people don’t touch you I don’t think it matters at all.”

Letting Kyle Kosier go is right move

March, 17, 2012
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It had to happen at some point.

Todd Archer reports the Cowboys will release veteran guard Kyle Kosier. He did a fantastic job for the Cowboys in his seven seasons with the team.

Kosier's health and age led to this.

He's 33 but he played the 2011 season with a nagging plantar fasciitis and suffered a torn ligament in his knee in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants. If the Cowboys had beaten the Giants, Kosier would have been unavailable for the postseason.

You had to wonder just how long the Cowboys wanted to stick with Kosier. He missed 13 games in 2008 with a foot injury and three more with a bad knee in 2010. Kosier would have played through all these things if the team doctors had let him.

He was a tough guy.

Kosier was the good soldier for the Cowboys, moving from his customary left guard spot to the right to help rookie right tackle Tyron Smith get used to the NFL game.

Kosier even thought about moving to center if it was necessary, though he never played it.

But the Cowboys want to get younger.

It's OK to have experience, but when you get in your mid-30s and play a demanding position like the offensive line, NFL teams begin to move you out.

Nothing personal, just business.

It was time.

One of the good things about Kosier was his presence in the locker room. Several of the younger linemen relied on him this season for advice about playing the offensive line. He didn't talk with the media much, but his respect in the locker room and in the media was secure.

You sometimes forgot about Kosier when Pro Bowls were being awarded to Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Flozell Adams over the years. Kosier was a steady presence who sometimes was overlooked.

Like we said, it's time to move on and if the Cowboys are going to improve as a franchise, aging vets must be sent home.

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