- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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As a whole the Cowboys' 2013 season was a disappointment, but they did manage to have some hidden gems. In this series, NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer looks at some under-the-radar success stories.
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys signed Mackenzy Bernadeau as a free agent in 2012, the general reaction from fans was, "Who?" By the end of that season, many fans were ready to move on from Bernadeau.
He started the first three games in 2013 but lost his job for five weeks when Brian Waters was inserted into the starting lineup.
When Waters went down with a season-ending triceps injury, Bernadeau re-assumed the spot and played his best football as a Cowboy.
"For the most part when I was in there I was pleased with the way I played, but I can also play better," Bernadeau said. "You never want to come out and get benched. I think I handled it the best way I could. I was very professional about it. As frustrated as I was and mad that I got benched, I understand the game. I understand that somebody might go down and I might get the chance to go back on there. When I did have that chance, I took the opportunity that was given to me."
Bernadeau was flagged for just one penalty on the season. His pass protection was solid. He did a good job on combination blocks to get demarco Murray free. Coach Jason Garrett said he believed Bernadeau benefitted from watching Waters play.
"I want to get better at everything," Bernadeau said. "The biggest thing is I want to finish more; being able to finish more and play faster. I felt like as an O-line we got better as the year progressed and I got better and getting the job done, but I want to finish with that nastiness that comes naturally with playing the position."
Perhaps the biggest benefit to Bernadeau's growth will be his health. He has been unable to take any offseason snaps in his first two years with the Cowboys because of surgeries. In 2012, he had operations on his hip and knee. Last year, he had shoulder surgery and had to open camp briefly on the physically unable to perform list.
"It's tough not taking an offseason snap because you miss getting all those reps and getting the continuity of the line work with your steps and technique," Bernadeau said. "Other than doing it in a game, it takes a lot of time to get used to. I felt like coming in my first year I obviously missed out because I couldn't get anything done [in the offseason]. This past year was a little better because I had the footwork down but the upper body, shoulder bothering me. I'm just excited about being healthy and doing everything this whole offseason."