Crowded Cowboys O-line is a good thing

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
3:35
PM ET
Remember, the Dallas Cowboys have a new offensive line coach. They have entrusted the well-regarded Bill Callahan with the job of overhauling one of their biggest and most costly 2011 weaknesses. It's probably safe to assume Callahan is picking out guys he likes, guys he thinks can work in the blocking schemes he plans to run, and that the Cowboys are considering his opinion when drawing up their list of targets.

So before anyone overreacts to the signing of former Bengals guard Nate Livings to a five-year deal that includes $6.2 million in guaranteed money, think about what the Cowboys are trying to do here.

Pro Football Focus doesn't like Livings one bit. Here's their review of the signing:
Livings has the size that Dallas covets on the O-line, but little else positive to bring to the table. -24.0 since he took over as starter for the Bengals in 2009.

I also asked my old friend and colleague LeCharles Bentley, the former NFL player who runs his own offensive line academy in Ohio, about Livings. LeCharles said he's a big, physical guy who can help in the run game and is a good locker room presence. Not a perfect player, but one who can help. And if he clicks with the new line coach, maybe he outplays his résumé.

So here's my thinking on the Cowboys and the guards:

They drafted two guards -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- last year. They felt good enough about Nagy to open the season with him as a starter, and who's to say whether things wouldn't have been different if he'd stayed healthy, developed and gained some strength? Those guys are still on the team, and this time they'll have full offseasons and training camps.

Bringing in Livings and fellow free-agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, who signed earlier this week, gives the Cowboys depth and coverage at a position that was a real struggle for them in 2011. If Arkin and Nagy take big jumps forward, they have quality utility linemen with experience behind them. If not, they have guys they feel can start right away.

This doesn't mean veteran Kyle Kosier is gone. The Cowboys worry about his health, but they value him as a leader. If he proves himself healthy, he's likely still a starter at one of the guard spots, and there's even been some talk about him maybe moving to center, which was their real problem area last year.

-Speaking of center, they still have Phil Costa, who struggled at the position last year, and Kevin Kowalski, who was an undrafted rookie last year but got good reviews from the coaching staff and could be in the center mix. Arkin and/or Nagy also could be in the center mix, as each got snaps there in practice last training camp. And who knows? Maybe they see one of the new guys as someone who could play center.

What we have here is basically seven players for three interior offensive line spots. And given the difficulties the Cowboys had at those spots last year, that's a good thing. Competition makes people better and creates options for the coaching staff. The problem last year was that, when a guard or center struggled, the Cowboys had nowhere they could turn for a replacement. Now, with a new line coach and a bunch of fresh faces mixed in with the players who were already there, they have given themselves more of a safety net.

So look at the big picture here on the Cowboys' offensive line, not the individual signings. They've added depth and experience, and assuming Callahan knows what he's doing, there's reason to believe they have a better chance to make a successful line out of the current mix than they did out of last year's.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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