NFC East: kevin kowalski

IRVING, Texas -- Guard Brian Waters said he's not a savior for the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, but to team executive vice president Stephen Jones, Waters' signing this week solves several questions.

The Cowboys had depth issues along the line because of injuries to Nate Livings (knee) and Ronald Leary (knee) and the slow development of younger prospects such as Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin.

Waters' signing means, for now, that the Cowboys won't have to move right tackle Doug Free to right guard and elevate right tackle Jermey Parnell from the second team to the first.

"Getting Waters takes it from being a big, big question mark to, I think, not only not a question mark on the front end, but having good depth," Jones said. "Take a starter in (Mackenzy) Bernadeau, who may ultimately be a backup here, and I'm sure he's just not going to give the job away. He's been competing well, we've been pleased with him. We have (Phil) Costa (at center) -- and you know what we think about Costa and Parnell -- (that) gives you a solid eight there. We still got (David) Arkin and (Darrion) Weems. We're pleased."

Waters' first practice Wednesday saw him running with the second-team offense at right guard. It appears doubtful Waters can step in and play significantly Sunday night against the visiting New York Giants.

But Waters looked good during his workout, Jones said, which didn't surprise him.

"Obviously, I have a lot of experience," said Waters, who enters his 13th NFL season. "I have game-time experience, so I feel if those guys need me in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer insight on some different ways to do things and different players that I’ve played against. Obviously, this center is young and smart. He’s not going to need much help from me. I’m probably going to need more help from him than he’s going to need from me."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray might have played only three series Saturday at Arizona, but that wasn’t the case for the first-team offensive line.

Tyron Smith, David Arkin, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free played a series into the third quarter. Arkin played even longer.

“We’ve just been limited,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We anticipated them playing certainly the whole first half when Tony and Kyle [Orton] were in there. We were going to give them one more series because we don’t have that many guys. It was good to give them a chance to play next to each other.”

Jermey Parnell went through pregame warmups but did not dress for the game after practicing for just a few days last week in Oxnard, Calif. Ronald Leary (knee), Nate Livings (knee), Ryan Cook (back), Ray Dominguez (shoulder) and Kevin Kowalski (knee) did not dress for the game.

The entire starting offense should play into the third quarter Thursday against Cincinnati at AT&T Stadium.
PHOENIX -- The Cowboys play their third preseason game Saturday at Arizona against the Cardinals.

Here are five players to keep an eye on:

David Arkin: He's going to start at left guard with Ronald Leary possibly out for the rest of the preseason as he recoversfrom knee surgery. Arkin battled Kevin Kowalski for playing time at the right guard spot when Mackenzy Bernadeau went down with an injury. Arkin is going to get a chance to show the coaches he can be a productive player, which is important because the Cowboys like to run off the left side where Tyron Smith resides.

George Selvie: After a productive first preseason game (where he picked up two sacks and six tackles), Selvie was inserted into a starting role at defensive end in the second game but slowed down with just two tackles. Selvie will start again against the Cardinals, and a solid game should help his chances of remaining with the club.

B.W. Webb: Webb wants to forget about what happened in the second preseason game at Oakland, where he muffed a punt, missed a tackle and had a few mental errors. In practices after the Raiders game, Webb handled punts with no issues and is doing a better job in pass coverage with the second and third teams. Webb should make the roster, but it's unclear if the Cowboys would try to release him so they could try to get him through waivers and place him on the practice squad.

Terrance Williams: The third-round pick from Baylor missed the first two preseason games while recovering from a concussion. He makes his debut here as the No. 3 receiver. He's looked good in practices and is developing a strong command of the playbook. He is turning into a pretty good threat in the deep passing game.

Gavin Escobar: It has been a tough two weeks for the rookie tight end. Escobar is still behind James Hanna on the depth chart and continues to struggle as a blocker. He's a good receiver, but the Cowboys need their tight ends to block if they're going to increase the number of attempts in the run game.

Jerry Jones on the Cowboys' O-line

February, 25, 2013
Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones spoke to reporters over the weekend at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and obviously one of the topics of interest was the team's offensive line. The line was horrible in 2012, as has been thoroughly chronicled here, and though I agree with Jones' opinion that it showed improvement as the year went on, I submit that it had no other direction in which to go.

The question is what to do now. Jones mentioned that quarterback Tony Romo's ability to move around and make plays on the run helps, as he doesn't require a top-flight offensive line to be productive. But I'm certain that Romo would enjoy it if he were better protected, and obviously the Cowboys should not be making their offensive line plans based on the idea that their quarterback can succeed behind a substandard one. They need to get better. Jones suggests that they can get better with continued development from the guys they have:
Left tackle Tyron Smith is Jones’ only sure bet, but he liked what he saw at the end of the year from Doug Free and Jermey Parnell. Jones acknowledged the Cowboys “need more,” from free-agent pickups Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau in 2013, and he could see center Phil Costa as the starter “for several years.” He also touted the futures of Kevin Kowalski and Ronald Leary.

“Now does that make you sleep at night because you know you need depth? We might be talking about your depth there when I’m really alluding two five or six guys, which could be your starters,” Jones said. “I think we’ve got a chance to have a plus from a couple of these young guys, and we’re very likely, through a combination of free agency or this draft to get serious about another guard-center type there.”

Well, I think that last thing he said is the most encouraging if you're a Cowboys fan, because what the Cowboys really need is more elite-level talent on the line. Smith is the only current member of the Dallas line who appears to have elite-level talent, and part of the problem in 2012 was that he needed time to transition from right tackle to left tackle. I think he's a franchise-caliber player on the left side and will be more than fine there for years to come.

But while it's foolish to think the Cowboys could assemble a line on which all five positions had that kind of talent (Smith was, after all, a top-10 draft pick), they need at least one more. If they could draft or sign a top-shelf "guard-center type," of which there are a few in this year's draft, the whole thing would start to look at lot better. Then they'd be trying to fill three spots with the guys they already have on the roster instead of four, and that's feels a lot more manageable. I don't know if they'll be in position to pick someone like Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper in the first round, but if they're thinking along those lines I think they're doing themselves a favor. Finding someone besides Smith they can plug into their line and not have to worry about him for the next decade would be a fine use of that first-round pick.
Methinks, methinks you'd like some links.

New York Giants

Mike Garafolo looks at what's wrong with the Giants' passing game right now, and lays a pretty fair share of the blame at the feet of two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning.

The Giants are taking their role in this area's recovery from Hurricane Sandy quite seriously. The team is donating $500,000 to relief efforts, and players are out in the community doing hands-on work to help out those who need it. Good to see.

Philadelphia Eagles

The news doesn't sound good on the injured ankle of right tackle Todd Herremans, and Andy Reid didn't say anything in his Tuesday news conference to indicate that he has any answers for what's wrong with the Eagles.

Sheil Kapadia does his offensive line breakdown from Monday Night, and while the whole thing was obviously a mess, Sheil has come to the conclusion that the Demetress Bell signing in particular has turned out to be completely irredeemable.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are hoping the interior of their offensive line could get a boost from the activation of guard/center Kevin Kowalski, for whom they had high hopes this season.

Todd Archer takes up the question of whether the Cowboys should use the hurry-up offense more, since it seems to work so much better when they do. Some have asked me why they don't just do it all game, and my basic answer is that you can't use the hurry-up all game if you're not deep at wide receiver and running back and if your offensive line is prone to false starts as it already is. But that's not to say they can't or shouldn't work to incorporate it more into upcoming games.

Washington Redskins

It sounds as though Mike Shanahan explained his Sunday comments about it being time to evaluate what he has on the roster for years to come to his players, and that his players are satisfied with his explanation.

Jason Reid writes that Shanahan should be given more time to make things work in Washington, and his main reason for that is that Robert Griffin III just got there. This makes sense. My regular answer to those who ask whether Shanahan is safe is that they're not going to change Griffin's coach after Griffin's first year.
I was online last night, chatting with some folks on Twitter, and a concerned Dallas Cowboys fan asked me why they wouldn't look at former Philadelphia Eagles center Jamaal Jackson. I replied that I'd been under the impression that Jackson was done, a conclusion I'd based on the fact that he was on the Giants briefly this spring and that Giants coach Tom Coughlin said when they cut ties that Jackson was planning to retire.

Turns out, Coughlin doesn't speak for Jackson (@CenterStage67), who tweeted back a short time later to correct me and educate the folks to whom I was talking:
"Not retired I'm ready, teams have called I'm hopeful I'll be signed soon!"

So there you have it. Jackson, who was supplanted as the Eagles starter last year in training camp by rookie Jason Kelce, is hoping to play in 2012. The Cowboys have a serious need at center. Even if you buy Phil Costa as the starter (and you know I don't), they have nothing behind him. They continue to insist that guard Mackenzy Bernadeau has played it, but I can't find anything on his NFL record to indicate that he's done so as a pro. Besides, Bernadeau has been injured and only started practicing Tuesday. Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski, second-year men the Cowboys had hoped could serve as fill-ins or competition for Costa, are on the shelf for a while. David Arkin, who's never played it before, was a mess in practice Tuesday on the center-quarterback exchange and got pulled from the role.

Jackson is 32, and as of this time last year (before we knew they were willing to go with a rookie), it appears as though he'd be the starting center for the Eagles. He missed 15 games in 2010 with an arm injury, and so he hasn't seen any significant action since 2009. That makes one wonder what he has left. But at this point, it's hard to see how it wouldn't be worth the Cowboys' time to at least give it a look, right?
OXNARD, Calif. -- I was going to start off writing about the Dallas Cowboys' center position, but it's such a beautiful night here I just feel too good to start off with a negative. So we'll get to center, but I'm going to start with the defensive line.

I was critical of the Cowboys' draft in general, and my feelings on third-round pick Tyrone Crawford were that they'd picked a guy who couldn't help them this year -- a project defensive end for a 3-4 defense when they'd already traded their second-round pick and still had 2012 needs to address. But watching Crawford practice -- watching him in drills against the likes of Tyron Smith -- it's easy to see how the Cowboys could indeed find a role for him this year as a situational pass-rusher in nickel or dime packages. I asked Cowboys coach Jason Garrett about Crawford and this year, and this is what he told me:

[+] EnlargeTyrone Crawford
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThird-round pick Tyrone Crawford has impressed during training camp.
"The vision we had for him in Year 1 was, 'Come in here and be a contributor as a pass-rush guy, and then we feel like you can be big enough to play the five-technique in our base defense.' We loved his relentless nature. Passionate kid still learning the game of football. His body's going to get bigger. He's going to get stronger. He has position traits to be a starter in the future, and right now he can have a role for us because we potentially like how he can rush the passer in a third-down situation."

Crawford is listed at 285 pounds, and most of the rest of the defensive linemen on the Cowboys' roster exceed 300. So they will need to see him bulk up before he can be a starter for them. But rushing the passer is a lot about speed, instinct and determination, and Crawford doesn't need to bulk up in order to deliver in that aspect of the game. So keep an eye out for how they deploy him on third downs. Could be that I was (hope you're sitting down!) wrong about that one.

Some other things I saw/heard/noticed/surmised during my second and final day at Cowboys training camp:

  • As great as the Cowboys' skill-position players are, they're going to have a hard time being productive if the center can't get the ball to the quarterback. And the Cowboys' centers... well, they struggle with that. Starter Phil Costa had trouble with it last year. The guys they thought would push Costa for the job this camp -- Mackenzy Bernadeau, Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski -- are all hurt. David Arkin, a guard who's never played center before, has been getting snaps there, but he was so bad Tuesday that they had to take him out of his spot as the second-team center, replace him with Harland Gunn (another guard they're trying out at center) and use Costa, the starter, as the third-team center. It was, to use a highly technical football term, not good. Bernadeau did do some work early in position drills and could start practicing later in the week, but Kowalski and Nagy don't look as though they'll factor into this mix in the preseason. Cowboys player personnel director Stephen Jones acknowledged after the practice that it was ugly, but he said he has high hopes for Bernadeau as a real option and that they weren't yet in the market for a free-agent center.
  • Bernadeau and Gunn stayed after practice to work on snaps on the side.
  • Fifth-round pick Danny Coale did a lot of work in individual wide receiver drills as well as punt return drills, though he was still held out of 11-on-11s as he recovers from his injury. He also could return to practice later in the week. Garrett didn't list him among the No. 3 wide receiver candidates earlier in the day, but it's possible he could work his way into the mix as the year goes along.
  • The guys Garrett did list were Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes and Dwayne Harris. He was making a point that Miles Austin's ability to play an inside slot position as well as play on the outside gives the Cowboys leeway when picking their No. 3, as they don't need it to be one or the other. He said they look at Ogletree and Harris as guys who can play both inside and outside while Holmes profiles more as an outside guy.
  • Austin, incidentally, is still out with a hamstring injury, but this is not being deemed serious because it's not as though Austin has a history of missing time with hamstring injuries. Wait. What? Oh.
  • After briefly leaving camp and coming back at the team's request, Cole Beasley continued to look good as a wide receiver and catching punts. Not sure if he can push himself into the mix, but he's playing very well.
  • DeMarco Murray looks fantastic, running with vision and power and showing no signs of the ankle injury that ended his 2011 season early.
  • And yeah, I could gush some more about how good Dez Bryant looks, but I feel like I've done enough of that. Just... I mean... if you don't want to draft him for your fantasy team, I'll be happy to scoop him up one pick later, is all I'm saying.
  • I head home to New Jersey on Wednesday, but Cowboys Camp Confidential is scheduled to run Friday and I have a bunch more stuff from Cowboys camp to share with you over the coming days and probably into next week. If the posts are a little light tomorrow, you'll know my plane doesn't have WiFi.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- A new month and a new locale for the NFC East blog, which drove Tuesday night through Gettysburg and Harrisburg and goodness-knows-how-many other burgs to arrive here. I will be checking out the training camp of the dynastically-minded Philadelphia Eagles the next two days, but you know you'll still be getting plenty of my leftover reporting from Giants camp and Redskins camp while I'm here. (I head to Cowboys camp Monday and Tuesday). You also know you can always count on the links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Much of the focus and analysis of the 2012 Eagles' secondary has focused on the likely benefit of playing Nnamdi Asomugha more in man coverage, where he excelled as a Raider. But moving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the outside full-time is also likely to have major benefits, as Geoff Mosher explains.

The Eagles blitzed on just 18 percent of their plays last year (second-lowest figure in the league), Sheil Kapadia writes. And since they tied for the league lead in sacks anyway, don't expect that number to go up very much. The defensive scheme implemented last year by Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn relies on the four defensive linemen to create pressure on the quarterback, and the Eagles have the linemen to pull it off.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking run game works best with a versatile, heavily involved fullback in the backfield, so Darrel Young's hamstring strain is not good news. Shanahan said after practice Tuesday that Young would likely miss one to two weeks with the injury. That could give rookie Alfred Morris a chance to show his versatility, as he's said he'll play fullback if needed, but the Redskins have been using him in the tailback rotation and he's actually got a shot to emerge from camp as the starting tailback. (Hey, who doesn't?)

You can't watch Redskins practice these days and not notice some of the option offense they're running with Robert Griffin III at quarterback. It looked to me as though Roy Helu was most often the running back when they went to the option, but I didn't keep close track of that. I'm sure they'll run some option at some point with Griffin, but the impression I get is that they're just trying to throw everything at him right now and determine which stuff he can handle and run the best.

Dallas Cowboys

The Bill Nagy injury is disappointing for the Cowboys because Kevin Kowalski and Mackenzy Bernadeau are already hurt and that leaves pretty much no one to push Phil Costa at center. And even if they didn't want to replace Costa as their starting center, the Cowboys were hoping to throw some competition at him and maybe help him get better. That is not, currently, an option.

Calvin Watkins is calling Felix Jones, Andre Holmes and Brodney Pool -- the three Cowboys players who failed their camp-opening conditioning test -- "The Big Three," which I personally find hilarious. Anyway, he says there's a chance they get to run the thing again today. I hope they pass it. No one needs an Albert Haynesworth situation here.

New York Giants

Giants safety Tyler Sash got suspended for four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy and offered the same lame excuse everyone's using nowadays. Doesn't matter whether he's lying or not, Sash has already lost his appeal. I just marvel that every single guy who ever gets suspended for performance-enhancers is always innocent. No one ever comes out and says, "Yeah, I did it. I messed up. I'm sorry. Won't happen again." Anyway, between this and Terrell Thomas' fresh ACL injury, the likelihood of a Deon Grant return does seem to be increasing, no?

Gary Myers seems to believe that Jerry Jones' trash talking at a fan pep rally earlier this week will somehow "wake up" the Giants and enable them to beat the Cowboys in 2012. Couple of things. First, I was not aware that the Giants were not awake. Second, I just want to throw out the possibility that, if the Giants beat the Cowboys in 2012, it might have something to do with their having better players. For goodness' sake, people, it was a pep rally. Jones didn't break into the Giants' locker room and start telling all of the players they stink. It was a pep rally.

Checking in on Cowboys camp

July, 25, 2012
The Dallas Cowboys opened training camp for rookies and selected veterans Wednesday, and there are a few newsy tidbits courtesy of my good friends over at

Cornerback Mike Jenkins is one of five players opening camp on the Cowboys' physically unable to perform list. He's in camp, continuing his recovery from shoulder surgery, but as Calvin Watkins wrote this morning, his situation is very much in flux. He's not happy about being the No. 3 corner behind Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne, and he's asked for a new contract or a trade, neither of which the team wants to give him. The Cowboys don't know when they'll see Jenkins on the field, in part because he doesn't seem in a hurry to get there. The rest of the PUP crew -- guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, wide receiver Danny Coale, guard/center Kevin Kowalski and safety Matt Johnson -- are all expected back in the coming weeks.

All five players matter. Bernadeau and Kowalski are in contention for starting spots on the interior of the offensive line, the team wants to see if Coale can be a real candidate for the No. 3 wide receiver spot as a rookie, Johnson has a chance to beat out Brodney Pool for a starting safety job but needs to be on the field to do it, and Jenkins is of course part of the Cowboys' plan to be as deep as possible at the position that devastated them last year.

Most eyes Wednesday were on top draft pick Claiborne, the rookie cornerback who missed OTAs and minicamp while recovering from wrist surgery but was on the field for the first training camp practice. Todd Archer thought he looked aggressive ("maybe too aggressive at times, but it's better to be that way and coach it out of a cornerback"), and I think everyone's eager to get to Oxnard next week and see how he looks against Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Claiborne also returned some punts, but the reviews on that don't indicate that you should expect to see it once games start.

And rookie Tyrone Crawford is a bit behind due to the calf injury that limited him this spring and summer, but he's working at it. Crawford's a long-term project anyway, and unlikely to play a major role early in 2012.

So there's your Cowboys update for the day. They'll be my final training camp stop, and I won't see them until Aug. 6, so I'll do my best to keep you posted in the meantime, even if that just means referring you to the exhaustive and perpetually excellent work of Calvin, Todd and Tim MacMahon.
All right, let's see what's on your minds this weekend.

Joe D from PCB, Fla., writes, "I saw where you said the Dallas Cowboys didn't address the problem at center. So, because they didn't draft or sign another center, does that mean the issue isn't being addressed?"

Dan Graziano: Well, yeah, kind of. That is what I meant, and what Tim MacMahon meant in the story to which I linked. But as you suggest, it's not really that simple. They did "address" the entire offensive line by bringing in Bill Callahan to coach it. It's possible Phil Costa will play better under Callahan than he did last year. It's possible he will play better if the guards on either side of him are better than the guards between whom he played last year, and in that way the free-agent signings of Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings could work to "address" center. There also exists the possibility that Bernadeau, Kevin Kowalski or Bill Nagy could show enough to replace Costa at center. So, which they didn't go out and make an ostensible effort to upgrade the position, I'm sure the Cowboys are aware that they need to be better there, and are "addressing" it in some ways. Good point, Joe D., assuming that's what you were driving at.

Wedo from Morenci, Ariz., asks whether I think the Washington Redskins drafted Kirk Cousins "in case Robert Griffin III doesn't pan out or maybe to get a draft pick for him down the road?"

DG: Kind of both, Wedo. I think the basic feeling is that Cousins was a guy they liked, and he was sitting there in the fourth round, and how often do you find a quarterback you feel good about in the fourth round? They feel like he's a good quarterback with good pro prospects and that they can develop him in a backup role into the kind of guy who could start if Griffin has an injury or other problems. And if he gets into a game or two, he becomes their Kevin Kolb or Matt Flynn -- a guy for whom other teams might be willing to pay a high price. But he wasn't drafted because of any doubts they have about Griffin. They believe Griffin is their future, and that he will "pan out."

Matt from Mahwah, N.J., (where I used to live, by the way) had a mathematical issue with the John Clayton prediction of a 9-7 record for the Giants and my subsequent analysis of the same. Matt points out that the New York Giants were actually 13-7 last year, not 9-7, and that when you factor in that 4-0 playoff record their actual 2011-12 performance projects to 10.4 wins in a 16-game season. So Matt thinks we should be basing this year's projections on that number.

DG: Well, Matt, your point isn't exactly wrong. I mean, of course we have to use the four postseason games in our evaluation of what kind of team last year's Giants were, just as we have to use the four-game losing streak from November. And yes, those postseason games should get extra weight, since they did obviously come against playoff teams. The Giants' toughness and ability to play their best in the biggest spots is one of their great assets, and I promise it's factored into every aspect of my analysis of their team. But I'm constantly mystified by those who would look at last year's performance as the chief basis for predicting this year's. The Giants suffered a lot of personnel losses and replaced those players with rookies if at all. (Martellus Bennett being the exception at tight end.) They retain last year's weaknesses at some key spots, including offensive line, just as well as they retain last year's strengths at critical positions like quarterback, wide receiver and defensive end. It all goes into the pot, and I reserve the right to keep thinking and analyzing all four teams before making my real predictions in late August or early September. But for the purposes of this week's "more or less" exercise, I don't think there's much wrong with the opinion that the Giants, a 9-7 regular-season team last year, don't seem to have improved themselves this offseason. And so I don't think there's anything wrong with a regular-season prediction of a record identical to or slightly worse than last year's. But that's my opinion, and nothing more, and I continue to wonder why so many people get so upset about one man's opinion.

Tom from Lancaster, Pa., asks if I think the Philadelphia Eagles have any interest in trading for Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, in the wake of this week's news that he could be had for a song.

DG: I wrote earlier in the week that I think they should, Tom, but all indications are that they do not. What that tells me is that they believe Mike Kafka, in his third year in their system, has advanced to the point where they believe he's ready to step in and play if and when Michael Vick gets injured and has to miss time. It's not impossible to imagine that they could have developed a reliable backup in that amount of time. From the outside, I look and say they'd be better off with a guy who's actually started NFL games and knows how to do it. But they're looking at Kafka every day, and if they think he's better than McCoy in spite of the experience differential, then they shouldn't make such a move. And that appears to be the case.

And finally, Tim from Wilmington, Del., asks a question many of you have been asking: When will the "SportsCenter" special previewing the NFC East air?

DG: For those who don't know, "SportsCenter" has been running occasional season previews focusing on individual divisions. The one that focuses on the NFC East is scheduled to run July 3.

Let's try this again next week, shall we?
Our position-by-position analysis of the four teams in the NFC East continues with a look at the many changes along the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line.

Projected starters: LT Tyron Smith, LG Nate Livings, C Phil Costa, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, RT Doug Free

Reserves: C Kevin Kowalski, G/C Bill Nagy, T Ronald Leary, T Jermey Parnell, G David Arkin

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesTyron Smith earned more responsibility for 2012 after shining as a rookie last season.
Potential strength: The tackles should be a strength. Smith, the 2011 first-round pick, was outstanding at right tackle as a rookie, and the Cowboys have no reason to doubt he can handle the move to the more important left side. They also believe the move back to right tackle could help Free, who struggled at times in his second year on the left. The NFC East features a lot of very good edge rushers, but the Cowboys believe they have the men on the outside of their offensive line to handle it. New offensive line coach Bill Callahan is also viewed by many as an upgrade whose presence should help the tackles and the rest of the offensive line perform better.

Potential weakness: Center still stands out as a problem area. Costa was not very good last year, and there remains a chance he could be replaced by Bernadeau (though he's out for a couple of months following hip surgery) or Nagy. For it to be Nagy, he's going to have to show improved strength over last year. If he does, then from a technique standpoint he's a threat to start at center or either guard spot over the guys listed as projected starters there. Kowalski is also well regarded by the Dallas coaches and front office and could work his way into the mix if Costa does not show improvement.

Keep an eye on: The offseason competition at guard. The Cowboys signed free agents Bernadeau and Livings thinking they'd be starters, but neither is 100 percent guaranteed a starting spot. Nagy, Arkin and others loom as threats in what coach Jason Garrett has said many times will be a competition in the offseason and in training camp. Garrett's hope is that this competition brings the very best out of all of his players, thereby improving them all and giving him higher-quality choices from which to pick his starters when the time comes. We shall see. The interior of the line was a big problem for quarterback Tony Romo (not to mention the running game) in 2011, and it will need to show improvement if the Cowboys are to improve on their 8-8 record.
John Clayton has a preview of some of the hot issues teams face as organized team activities (or OTAs) begin this week. The only NFC East mentions in his piece are about the Philadelphia Eagles, and they are this one:
The Eagles signed Demetress Bell to replace left tackle Jason Peters, who is out for the season after tearing his Achilles twice. Bell was previously Peters' replacement in Buffalo but didn't stand out.

and this one:
Dream Team, take two: The Eagles were the winners of the 2011 offseason but losers when they underachieved last season and didn't make the playoffs. The key to OTAs is seeing whether they are going in the right direction on defense. Last year, they brought in man-to-man specialists Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and played them in zone. Andy Reid brought in secondary coach Todd Bowles to help defensive coordinator Juan Castillo sort out the plan in the secondary and see whether the Eagles can match up better with the talent on hand.

And yeah, as was the case when the 2011 season started, I think it's fair to say the Eagles will be the most compelling national story out of our division. Much is expected, and given the way they flopped last year, they'll be under even more scrutiny this year.

But we deal with all four teams equally here, so playing off of John's column, I figured it'd be a good idea to pick something to watch for each of our other three teams this week. Remember that these offseason workouts are voluntary, so not all of the players we're looking at will necessarily be on the field. The Redskins' OTAs begin today, the Eagles and Cowboys start theirs Tuesday and the Giants get on the field Wednesday.

Dallas Cowboys

Lining up the line: The injury that will keep free-agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau out for the spring and summer deprives the Cowboys of a chance they were expecting to see Bernadeau at center. It also removes him temporarily from the offseason competition for one of the guard spots, and will give players such as David Arkin, Bill Nagy, Nate Livings and Kevin Kowalski a head-start on him as they get an early chance to show the coaches what they can do.

New York Giants

The replacements: The Giants have to figure some things out on the line as well, and they'll take a look this offseason at whether Will Beatty is making progress as the starting left tackle and whether veteran David Diehl is the solution at right tackle with Kareem McKenzie gone. But they also want to see whether first-round pick David Wilson can replace running back Brandon Jacobs, whether second-round pick Rueben Randle can emerge from the crowd hoping to replace wide receiver Mario Manningham, and whether Terrell Thomas and/or Prince Amukamara is healthy enough to replace cornerback Aaron Ross.

Washington Redskins

Here, catch! We know rookie Robert Griffin III is the guy who'll be throwing the ball for the Redskins -- now and, ideally, for the long-term future. But Washington still needs to sort out who's going to catch it. Free-agent signees Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan are obviously going to get the first shot at prominent roles in the receiving corps, and the coaching staff remains excited about 2011 rookie Leonard Hankerson. But veteran Santana Moss will also push for a role, and there are several holdovers at the wide receiver spot who will look to catch the coaches' attention this offseason so as not to get lost in the shuffle. And that doesn't even take into account tight end Fred Davis, who was the Redskins' best receiver last year.
He wasn't the biggest-name free agent the Dallas Cowboys signed this offseason, but guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is a part of the team's plans for the offensive line. So this report from Todd Archer that Bernadeau had hip surgery last weekend and could miss the next 10 to 12 weeks of the offseason program is not good Cowboys news. The Cowboys are projecting Bernadeau as a starter at guard, though their expectation is that the starting guards will emerge from a group that includes him, fellow free-agent signee Nate Livings and second-year men David Arkin, Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski. The timetable Todd lays out would put Bernadeau on track to return, assuming no setbacks, around the time preseason games start, and as a result he could be well behind the others in that competition for those starting spots.

Again, no one's going to hear this news and shout, "Oh no! We're doomed without Bernadeau!" But the idea behind the Cowboys' plan to fix the interior of their offensive line is that an abundance of quantity and competition would produce the quality starters for whom they're looking. Not having Bernadeau around for the offseason program reduces their numbers by one and, by definition, weakens the level of competition. If nothing else, it deprives them of a chance to get him into their program and find out whether he actually does have what it takes to start for them.

Jon from Atlanta asked in the mailbag this afternoon whether this meant the Cowboys would or should bring back veteran guard Kyle Kosier, whom they cut. But I'd be surprised. There's nothing to indicate Bernadeau can't return in time for the season, and the main reason Kosier was cut was the team's belief that he could no longer hold up physically anyway. Possible, but I doubt they bring in (or bring back) anyone like that.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is aware that his team didn't sign the biggest-name, highest-pedigreed offensive linemen available on this year's free-agent market. That wasn't the goal.

"None of these guys were brought in and told, 'You are the anointed starter,'" Garrett said Wednesday morning at the NFL owners meetings. "They're here to create competition on our team, and we feel like they're the right kinds of guys, individually as people but also with their talent. They can come in and compete for those spots and make us a better football team."

The newcomers are guards. The Cowboys like both of their starting tackles, though they are switching their roles, with Tyron Smith slated to move to left tackle and Doug Free back to right tackle in 2012. But where they really struggled last year was on the interior of the line. So they signed Mackenzy Bernadeau from Carolina and Nate Livings from Cincinnati, and they're throwing them into the mix with the two guards -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- they drafted last year along with centers Phil Costa and Kevin Kowalski, and they're going to see what happens.

On Bernadeau, Garrett had this to say:
"He's a guy that we liked coming out. He's a young guy from a small school who we feel has the physical traits to be a really good player in this league. He has not been a consistent starter for [Carolina]. He has been a starter, but he's had some injuries and some different things that he's dealt with. We're just excited about the kind of kid he is and the upside that he has. So we feel like putting him into the mix will help our team."

And on Livings, this:
"Nate had been a starter the last couple of years in Cincinnati. He's a big guy. He played at LSU. And he's one of those guys who was a college free agent and who had to really earn his way in the NFL. When we put the tape on, we just liked how he played. And we feel like, if you bring a guy like that in as well, he can get infused into our roster and hopefully create some competition up there."

Neither of the new guys is looked at as a potential solution at center, so that position is likely to come down to Costa and Kowalski and possibly Nagy if they don't add anyone else. But Garrett's point is that the Cowboys have enough bodies at those interior positions that it's fair to expect a strong offensive line to emerge. The players are young enough that, assuming they do find the right five-man mix, the line can grow together over the coming season and seasons and become a strength of the team. There are no guarantees, of course, but that's the hope and the plan, and the Cowboy have hand-picked some guys they believe can help produce those kinds of results.

Garrett also echoed the sentiment that owner Jerry Jones articulated the day before in a session with Dallas-area reporters here -- namely, that the work they've done on the offensive line through last year's draft and this year's free agency makes it more likely that they'd take a defensive player in next month's first round than an offensive lineman such as Stanford guard David DeCastro.

"We'd have to take into consideration that we've done pretty well in free agency relative to our offensive line," Garrett said. "We'd have to take that into consideration if we had the alternative of taking defense. So you're not off-base if you ask whether it's likely that we would take a defensive player."

Cowboys to cut their line's leader

March, 16, 2012
Todd Archer of (who's been an absolute animal this week, by the way) is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys plan to cut ties with veteran guard Kyle Kosier:
The move has not been made officially yet. Kosier had started 80 straight games in which he was active since joining the Cowboys as a free agent in 2006. He signed a three-year deal last summer after the lockout ended and started every game.

The move would save the Cowboys $1.55 million in salary cap space and continue the overhaul of the offensive line. Right tackle Doug Free is now the longest-tenured offensive linemen having joined the team in 2007. The second-longest tenured is center Phil Costa, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010.

Kosier earned a $1 million escalator that would have jumped his base salary in 2012 to $2.25 million.

I'm surprised. I know he's 33 years old and had some injury issues in 2011. And I know they drafted two guards last year and signed two guards this week. And yeah, I know the NFL is a tough, cold business. But whenever I was around the Cowboys the past couple of years, I heard someone tell me how important Kosier was as a leader among the offensive linemen. He got a lot of credit for Free's big year at left tackle when he played next to him at left guard in 2010, and he got a lot of credit for Tyron Smith's very quick transition to the pros at right tackle when he played right guard next to him in 2011.

So while they have a new offensive line coach in Dallas, and they have every right to believe they can find two starting interior linemen from the group that now includes Costa, Bill Nagy, David Arkin, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Kevin Kowalski, this can't have been an easy decision for the Cowboys. Whoever else was on the line as they slid guys in and out over the past two seasons benefited from the fact that Kosier was there. And while the move seems to make sense from a business and numbers standpoint, Kosier brought something to the table that they can't be sure anyone in the remaining group does. It's something they could, theoretically, end up missing at some point this season.