NFL Nation: Kyle Kosier

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.”

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.”
IRVING, Texas -- The free-agent shopping starts today at 3 p.m. CT.

If the Dallas Cowboys have learned anything, it’s that they should use coupons.

From 2006-11, the Cowboys signed 12 players in unrestricted free agency. Only two players who signed multi-year deals reached the end of their contracts: Kyle Kosier signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cowboys in 2006 and was with the team through 2011. Keith Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal in 2009 and was a contributor through 2011.

Igor Olshansky (2009), Leonard Davis (2007) and Akin Ayodele (2006) are the only other players who made it more than one season on their original deals, and Olshansky and Ayodele made it only two seasons.

The Cowboys signed seven unrestricted free agents in 2012 and three lasted one season (Dan Connor, Nate Livings and Lawrence Vickers) on multi-year deals. Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal and barely made it to training camp.

Three members of the 2012 free-agent class remain: Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million), Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million) and Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million). Carr is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, Bernadeau took a pay cut last week and Orton is not sure he wants to play.

Spending money in free agency is hardly ever the answer. The Cowboys will not have a ton of money available to them when the market opens until the DeMarcus Ware situation is resolved, and even then they will have to be wise with how they spend it and who they spend it on.

The needs are obvious: defense, defense and more defense. That’s what happens when a unit finishes last in the NFL in 2013. But the Cowboys could use a veteran presence at wide receiver (Robert Meachem, Jason Avant) and a backup quarterback if Orton walks away (Shaun Hill).

Finding defensive line help is a must, but the Cowboys will have to be budget conscious. They have had on and off talks with Jordan Woy, who represents free agents Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, for most of the offseason. Both players could find better financial opportunities elsewhere.

Hatcher turns 32 in July and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks. He was added to the Pro Bowl. Spencer played in only one game in 2013 because of a knee injury that will not be healed enough for him to be 100 percent ready for training camp.

How much of a commitment can the Cowboys make and feel like they will get their money’s worth?

Ties to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could help in the pursuit of Henry Melton, but he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Value is often the most overlooked part of free agency. The big-money signings lead to the biggest headlines, but do not correspond enough to wins and losses.

The Cowboys found value in Kosier, Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bernadeau but did not or have not received enough bang for the buck in Carr ($26.5 million guarantee) and Davis ($18.75 million guaranteed).

As the Cowboys look to clear this 8-8 bump that has turned into Mt. Everest, they need to spend wisely, but more importantly they need to choose wisely.

Tony Romo vs. the undefeated

October, 4, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The last time Tony Romo went against an undefeated Peyton Manning-led team he had only three starts under his belt as the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback.

On Thursday Romo was asked what he remembered about the week leading into the game against the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts.

“Well, Bill (said to) me on Monday, ‘I’m going to turn this game over to you,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Romo said. “… And we ran it 36 times.”

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Ben MargotTony Romo has some experience leading the Cowboys to victory against unbeaten teams.
Bill would be Bill Parcells, and the Cowboys' coach was not ready to hand the game over to Romo, but the quarterback did complete 19 of 23 passes for 226 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass, but he did complete 10 of his final 11 passes for 130 yards to deliver a 21-14 win at Texas Stadium, ending the Colts’ perfect season.

Manning brings an undefeated Denver Broncos to AT&T Stadium. Romo will be making the 98th regular-season start of his career.

This will be Romo’s fifth start against teams that have started at least 4-0. He beat Manning’s Colts, lost to Tom Brady’s 5-0 New England Patriots in 2007, beat Drew Brees' 13-0 New Orleans Saints in 2009, and lost to Matt Ryan's 7-0 Atlanta Falcons last year.

“I think what you do is, you do what needs to be done throughout most of the football game, and as the game gets to a certain point in the game and the score dictates what you need to do to help your football team win,” Romo said. “Before then, I just think as a quarterback you need to do what gives you the best chance to be successful on that play. If that’s a deep ball, if that’s a dump off, that’s a handoff, whatever it might entail that gives your team the best chance to move the ball, that’s what you need to do."

The Cowboys beat the Colts by holding the ball for 33 minutes, 42 seconds, and running the ball 36 times for 117 yards. On the second play of the game the defense recovered a fumble. On the fifth play, DeMarcus Ware sacked Manning. On the 11th play Jay Ratliff had a sack-fumble. Roy Williams had an interception near the Dallas goal line, and Kevin Burnett returned an interception for a touchdown.

Against the Patriots, the Cowboys were matching Brady, and the defense scored a touchdown on a Jason Hatcher fumble recovery. Trailing 31-24 early in the fourth quarter a fourth-and-1 conversion was overturned by a holding penalty, forcing a punt. Five plays later, Brady threw a 69-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots went on to win 48-27.

Against the Saints the Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives and took a 24-3 lead on the opening drive of the second half. Mike Jenkins intercepted Brees near the Cowboys’ goal line, and Ware, who was not supposed to play because of a neck injury, had two sacks of Brees and three hurries.

The Cowboys won 24-17, rushing 36 times for 145 yards and converting on eight of 15 third-down opportunities.

Last year at Atlanta, the Cowboys sputtered on their first two possessions inside the red zone and had to settle for two Dan Bailey field goals for a 6-0 lead. The Falcons took a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Romo connected with Kevin Ogletree for a touchdown with 5:21 to play to cut the deficit to three points. The defense, however, could not get off the field on the ensuing drive (three third-down conversions) and Atlanta ate up all but 17 seconds on the clock.

“Teams get to 9, 10-0, 12-0 or whatever it might be, and they’ve obviously done a lot of good things right and Denver hasn’t really played in a football game yet,” Romo said. “It’s a testament to their players. They’re playing at a very high level. They deserve everything they’ve gotten. To beat a football team like this you have to play at a very high level, and you have to do a lot of things right. Saying that, there’s a certain recipe and certain way to go about the process, and we’re trying to do that.”

Cowboys to cut their line's leader

March, 16, 2012
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Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com (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 last 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.
Gotta love it when the head coach breaks news in his combine news conference. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters on hand in Indianapolis today that the team plans to move Doug Free from left tackle back to right tackle and move Tyron Smith from right tackle to left tackle. This move has been expected, given the brilliant way Smith played as a rookie in 2011 and the fact that Free struggled in his second season on the left side. But Garrett is confirming it, per our man on the scene, Todd Archer:
"The starting point for us next year is Tyron will start at left tackle and Doug will start at right tackle," Garrett said. "The versatility that Tyron had coming out is something we were really attracted to. He was a right tackle in college, as you know, but we felt like he had the physical traits to play left tackle. Same with Doug Free. We felt he could play either side."

When the Cowboys drafted Smith last year, they weren't sure whether they were going to lose Free to free agency, and one of the reasons they liked Smith was that they believed he had the ability to play left tackle if they needed one. Once they signed Free, they decided to leave him where he'd played well in 2010 and break in Smith at the position he'd played in college.

But Smith was the Cowboys' best offensive lineman in 2011, and Free struggled, so the Cowboys have decided to use their best tackle on Tony Romo's blindside, which makes sense. A couple of questions linger, though:

1. Where's Kyle Kosier going? He played left guard next to Free during Free's big year in 2010, then moved over to right guard to play next to Smith and help break in the rookie. Was Free's drop-off in play due in any part to Kosier moving to the other side? Will Kosier move back to the left to play next to Smith and help continue his development, or will he stay on the right to help Free? Kosier's a key figure on the Dallas offensive line, as a player and as a leader, and his status is worth monitoring in light of this move.

2. Is Free a good player who had a down year in 2011, or an average player who had a great year in 2010? The sense I get from talking to people around the league is that it's the former -- that Free still shows the skills to be a top-level tackle but just didn't get the job done this past year. The Cowboys expect him to bounce back, and perhaps a move back to the right side will allow him to do that without undue pressure.

3. Will Smith need time to adjust? He didn't play left tackle in college, and there are differences to which he'll have to become accustomed. Smith is thought of as a great enough athlete to make the adjustment. He may well have been the left tackle at USC had he not been on the same team as Matt Kalil. My guess is he won't skip a beat, and that the Cowboys will benefit from this move. Their bigger line problems are at guard and center.

Cowboys offensive line thoughts

February, 13, 2012
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The latest in ESPNDallas.com's position-by-position look at the Cowboys is the one for which I've been waiting -- the one about the interior offensive line. Calvin Watkins breaks down who they've got, what they need and what things could look like at guard and center for the Cowboys in 2012. Coupled with Tim MacMahon's installment on the offensive tackles from last week, this addresses one of the most important aspects of the roster:
Jerry Jones said the evaluation process of these two positions needs to get better. The Cowboys overestimated the talent level of the guards after training camp, going with younger players who proved to be inconsistent. The health of three veteran guards raised more questions.
[+] EnlargeCarl Nicks
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSigning a veteran guard like Carl Nicks in free agency would be a good move for the Cowboys.
This is the key, as it is with every team this time of year: self-evaluation. The Cowboys need to make an honest assessment of what they have at guard and center, and whether it's what they need going forward. We seem to have just witnessed a season's worth of evidence that Phil Costa isn't the answer at center, so the question then becomes whether Kevin Kowalski or Bill Nagy or David Arkin can be, and if so, how soon? It seems likely they'll bring back Kyle Kosier, since he's a leader on the line and has, in recent years, been a big part of the development of Tyron Smith and Doug Free, but what of the other guard spot? Can someone from last year's group of rookies slide in and play right away in 2012? Or do they need to find answers on the free-agent market or in the draft.

Personally, if I were the Cowboys, I wouldn't take an interior lineman in the first round. I just feel like there's value to be had at those spots in later rounds (the Eagles, for example, found their starting center in last year's sixth) and Dallas' needs at cornerback and pass-rusher are pressing enough to warrant first-round action.

Once they're done restructuring contracts, the Cowboys could have about $20 million in cap space, and if I were them I'd try and bring in a veteran guard like Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs -- or a center if they feel that's a more pressing need -- and then mix and match with that Arkin/Nagy/Kowalski/Costa group in the offseason to figure out exactly what they have there. It's not unrealistic to believe they have a starting center and potential Kosier replacement in that group, and adding someone like Nicks or Grubbs would reduce the pressure on all of the youngsters to perform right away.

I agree with Tim that they're fine at starting tackle. Smith is a stud, and I think Free is a good player who had a bad season. Whether they keep Free at left tackle and Smith at right or whether they switch them up, they should be okay at those spots. But they need to lock some things down in the middle of that line, where they struggled in 2011. And I think free agency might be the best place to start.

NFC East: The day in injuries

November, 3, 2011
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The headline injury news of the day in our division is that of New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who according to various reports has a broken bone in his foot. Now, Adam Schefter has reported that sources tell him it's not serious and Bradshaw could play Sunday. Others are reporting that Bradshaw is telling teammates he'll miss two weeks and could need season-ending surgery. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he didn't know what was going to happen, so it looks like we'll just have to monitor this one. If Bradshaw can't go, expect Brandon Jacobs to take the lead role in the NFL's 30th-best rushing offense with D.J. Ware backing him up.

The rest of the injury-report news from the NFC East on Thursday:

Giants

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was a surprise addition to the Giants' injury report with a neck injury, but the Giants are saying they don't think it's serious. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks sat out practice with a hamstring injury, and it's starting to look as though the Giants won't be able to count on him Sunday in New England. Center David Baas missed practice with a knee injury. Osi Umenyiora was limited and Justin Tuck practiced in full.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles don't play until Monday Night, so this was their first practice and injury report of the week. Running back LeSean McCoy missed practice with an "illness," but coach Andy Reid said it shouldn't cost him any more time. Tight end Brent Celek sat out practice with a hip injury, and linebacker Akeem Jordan remains out with a concussion. Other than that, the Eagles seem pretty healthy.

Dallas Cowboys

Right guard Kyle Kosier seems to be the new question mark this week in Dallas. He missed practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday with a foot injury. Remains to be seen if he'll be able to play, but if he isn't, their already challenged offensive line will be in even more trouble than usual. Sean Lee, Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins all missed practice with their wrist, ankle and hamstring injuries, and all seem rather unlikely to help Sunday against the Seahawks.

Washington Redskins

Left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis were both limited in practice because of their ankle sprains, and as badly as the Redskins need them both, it's tough to tell whether either will be able to play Sunday against the 49ers. Safety O.J. Atogwe missed practice with his toe and knee injuries.

NFC East offensive line thoughts

August, 29, 2011
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The news of the day so far in the NFC East is the Dallas Cowboys' decision to release center Andre Gurode and apparently head into the season with three new starters on the offensive line. Now, as happens whenever anyone we've ever heard of gets released, fans of the teams in this division want to know if he's going to end up on their teams. So:
  • Cowboys: No, obviously.
  • Giants: Extremely unlikely. They targeted and signed David Baas to play center and they like him. They like their guards, too.
  • Eagles: Doubtful. They want Jason Kelce to win the job, and even if he doesn't, they already have Jamaal Jackson.
  • Redskins: Possible, but I admit I don't have any insight into whether they're still looking to add to their line.

Miami makes sense, and I think I saw somebody mention Chicago. If Gurode is to be a division alum, we wish him well, but we're not likely to pay him much more attention. I'd rather focus on the offensive linemen who are actually in the division, and since the line pictures are starting to come into clear focus with all four teams (for better or for worse), let's take a look at each. Alphabetically, of course, since that's the only way I know to minimize hurt feelings.

Dallas Cowboys

Starters: LT Doug Free, LG Bill Nagy, C Phil Costa, RG Kyle Kosier, RT Tyron Smith

Reserves: G David Arkin, G Montrae Holland, T Sam Young, C Kevin Kowalski

Analysis: Wouldn't be surprised to see them add a veteran swingman who can back up the tackles. Nagy or Kowalski can handle center if Costa's not ready for the start of the season. I'd expect Arkin to get the first shot at playing time over Holland if a guard spot opened up, but if they should need a long-term fill-in, they might lean toward Holland. They like Arkin a lot but believe he needs more seasoning. Overall, there are more question marks here than you'd like to see. Nagy knows what he's doing but may not be strong enough yet to play the position full-time in the NFL. Smith is a beast, but his footwork still needs some refinement. And the group as a whole hasn't played together for more than a couple of weeks. The most important guy may be Kosier, whom line coach Hudson Houck described to me last week as "kind of a secondary coach out there" because of the way he communicates with and among the other linemen. If they come together quickly and the rookies develop, Kosier is likely to get a lot of the credit.

New York Giants

Starters: LT William Beatty, LG David Diehl, C David Baas, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie

Reserves: T Stacy Andrews, T Jamon Meredith, C Adam Koets, G Kevin Boothe

Analysis: Koets may have to begin the season on the PUP list because of his injured knee, which could open a spot for Mitch Petrus or even rookie James Brewer. With Snee and McKenzie, the Giants have as strong a right side as any line in the entire league. Baas looks like a professional and a mauler, and the only question is how quickly he can get up to speed with Eli Manning and his linemates, since he's the new guy in town and they haven't had many here lately. Moving inside to guard should help Diehl, who struggled at tackle last year even when he was healthy. For me, the whole thing rests on whether third-year man Beatty is ready to handle the role of starting left tackle in the NFL. Diehl is right there to help him, and Beatty isn't a rookie or new to the Giants. They believe they've groomed him for this and that he's ready. Assuming he is, the talent and the relative lack of major changes makes this the division's top line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Starters: LT Jason Peters, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, RG Danny Watkins, RT Todd Herremans

Reserves: C Jamaal Jackson, T Winston Justice, T King Dunlap, G Reggie Wells

Analysis: If Justice isn't ready, maybe Mike McGlynn grabs that spot. Still some things unsettled here, including among the starters. Mathis, Kelce and Watkins are all new, the latter two are rookies and Herremans is changing positions from left guard. Watkins is the first-round draft pick and as such he can expect to be the starter no matter how badly he's struggled in the preseason. They're saying the same about Kelce, but if he's clearly not ready they can always go back to Jackson until he is. Peters is a given, and a stud, in the passing and running games. And Herremans should be fine at tackle, though it says a lot about where the Eagles are with the state of their line that they moved him there with two weeks left in the preseason. I predict that this line will struggle at the outset, and maybe even cost Philadelphia an early game or two, but that it will show improvement under Howard Mudd as things move along and ultimately be good enough to deliver effective protection for Michael Vick and the Eagles' other outstanding skill-position players.

Washington Redskins

Starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Kory Lichtensteiger, C Will Montgomery, RG Chris Chester, RT Jammal Brown

Reserves: T Sean Locklear, G Artis Hicks, G Selvish Capers, C Erik Cook

Analysis: One of the reasons I couldn't rule out Gurode here was that the group could use some depth. As for the starters, though, this is the line in the NFC East that looks most like it did last year. Only Chester is new, and while Montgomery wasn't the starting center last year, he played there and is likely to be an upgrade over Casey Rabach. Due to Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, this is a group that must play and execute together in order to be effective. If one guy looks bad, the whole line is going to look bad. A lot rests on Williams, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, who must play with more consistency this year if he's to prove his talent justified that pick. Brown was a big re-signing, as he was well liked by teammates and linemates and brings a veteran presence among a relatively young group.

Camp Confidential: Dallas Cowboys

August, 21, 2011
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' coaches don't just announce drills during training camp practices, hollering out "9-on-7s!" as the horn blows and players shift from one field to the other. They're calling out situations. Two minutes to go, one timeout left, second-and-6 on your own 35. The players either huddle or hustle between plays, depending on what the called-out situation calls for. While these are drills only, they're intended to simulate game conditions as closely as they possibly can.

"Will we ever be able to completely re-create a game situation? No," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But we're going to try our best in practice, and I think all these situational periods had been really good for us. Not only have we created initial situations, but stuff comes up that isn't scripted, and I think our team has handled those well also."

What strikes you when you spend a few days in Cowboys camp is how normal things seem, how businesslike. Sure, they were in San Antonio for a while and now are splitting practice time between the steamy outdoor fields at Valley Ranch and the air-conditioned luxury of Cowboys Stadium. But it's nothing like last year, when they spent August bouncing between those places as well as Canton and California, brimming with the highest possible expectations, proclaiming with confidence the goal of being the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

A 6-10 record and a new coach can humble you, for sure, after a summer like that, and there's no doubt these Cowboys are humbled by the way things went in 2010. But if the end result is the atmosphere Garrett has created in his first training camp as head coach, there are worse things.

"We certainly want an atmosphere where guys like to coach and play football, but we absolutely want to be organized and prepared," Garrett said after Friday morning's workout at the stadium. "We want it to be businesslike when we're out there doing our work, out there on the field and also in the meeting rooms. We want to create a nice, professional atmosphere where we feel like we can function the best."

Garrett exudes both confidence and competence. He has waited his whole life for this chance, but he doesn't seem over-eager or phony about the way he's putting his long-held ideas about how to be a head coach into practice. He is smart, knowledgeable and self-assured, and it's emanating throughout the building. Around a team that often, throughout its history, has been known for something of a circus atmosphere, the mentality this August is straight lunch pail.

"Everybody here knows, whatever we get, we're going to have to work for it," right guard Kyle Kosier said. "Whether it's your spot on the roster or in the starting lineup or a Week 1 win or a playoff spot, it's about putting in this time right here and working. And that's all that's on anybody's mind right now."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRob Ryan will be expected to improve a defense that was one of the worst in the league last season.
1. Can the defense learn Rob Ryan's scheme in time? The Cowboys brought in Ryan to be their new defensive coordinator. And while they signed free-agent safety Abram Elam and free-agent defensive end Kenyon Coleman -- both played under Ryan in Cleveland the past two seasons -- the group they're bringing back on defense is otherwise the same as the one that allowed the second-most points in the league last season. Ryan is charged with fixing that, but of course the lockout denied him the opportunity to use spring minicamps and organized team activities as part of his installation process. The defense is trying to cram a whole offseason's worth of learning into one month, and there's a lot to learn. Ryan's defense is based on multiple and ever-changing looks, and a complexity designed to make things as confusing as possible for opposing offenses. But Garrett said he has faith in the quality of his defensive personnel and the ability of his flamboyant new coordinator to teach.

"It's difficult. There are a lot of looks," Garrett admitted. "But the other part to that, too, is that I think he grew up in very fundamentally sound system in the NFL -- linebacker coach for New England for four years during their Super Bowl era in the early 2000s. So he has a very good feel for base defensive football, and then he has an ability to evolve in different situations and make it more difficult for opposing offenses. So we feel excited about that, and we're excited to see our players play within this system."

2. Can they put together an offensive line? There are some new and inexperienced pieces here. Rookie Tyron Smith, the ninth overall pick in this past draft, will start at right tackle. Every day Smith gets an extra tutoring session with offensive line coach Hudson Houck and a series of rotating instructors that has included Kosier, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, left tackle Doug Free and others. Smith is ultra-talented but needs work on his footwork and learning the schemes. And as with the players learning the new defense, he has to cram. The Cowboys moved Kosier from left guard to right so he could work more closely with the rookie, but now they need a left guard. And while that still has a good chance to be Montrae Holland or Phil Costa, later-round rookies David Arkin and Bill Nagy have been getting first-team reps lately and one of them could end up starting Week 1.

3. Who is the No. 3 wide receiver? One of the first things the Cowboys did when the lockout ended and free agency began was cut receiver Roy Williams to help create cap room. That also created a vacancy at the No. 3 wide receiver spot behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Kevin Ogletree appears first in line to grab the opportunity, though Raymond Radway and Dwayne Harris have shown flashes. Some have suggested the Cowboys need to go out and get a veteran to fill the spot, but with tight end Jason Witten a near-lock for 90-plus catches, running backs Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray potential factors in the passing game and depth at both of those positions, the Cowboys feel as though the No. 3 wide receiver might be the No. 5 target for Tony Romo for most of the season.

THE BUTLER CAN DO IT

Third-year linebacker Victor Butler has been an eye-opener in camp, and some have suggested he might be a threat to Anthony Spencer's starting spot on the side opposite Ware. More likely, he's a guy to add to the pass-rush mix and give them depth and the ability to vary those looks even more. If anything, the camp Butler is having could serve to motivate Spencer to return to his 2009 form after a disappointing 2010.

"You can never have too many pass-rushers on one team," Ware said. "When the Giants won against the Patriots, they had several really great pass-rushers. Pressure is what gets things going. So to be able to develop another third-down guy will really help us out a lot."

TURNING UP A CORNER

[+] EnlargeOrlando Scandrick
John Albright/Icon SMIOrlando Scandrick has been a surprise in training camp and could provide much-needed depth in the Cowboys' secondary.
The Cowboys did not sign free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, though they tried, and they'll go with Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman as starting cornerbacks again. The problem is, injuries have kept both Jenkins and Newman sidelined so far in camp, and Newman is out until at least the regular-season opener. This is a spot where the Cowboys struggled mightily in 2010, and they're not going to have their defense the way they want it until they get Jenkins and Newman back on the field. The one positive to come out of this is that backup corner Orlando Scandrick has looked very good in a starter's role so far in camp, so maybe they have some quality depth there that they didn't know they had.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Cowboys might have more at defensive end than we thought immediately post-free agency. Coleman looks as if he's poised to steal Igor Olshansky's starting spot from him, and Jason Hatcher has looked rejuvenated and been an asset in the pass rush. Letting Stephen Bowen go to the Redskins felt like a loss at first, but re-signing Marcus Spears and Hatcher and bringing in Coleman might have made them deeper than they'd have been if they'd stayed pat.
  • The kicking competition looks miserable, with neither David Buehler nor Dan Bailey having seized the opportunity and Kai Forbath unable to get on the field because of injury. Don't rule out the possibility that the kicker the Cowboys go with this season isn't on the roster yet.
  • Jones and Romo aren't new or exciting names around here, but they look as good as anyone in camp on offense. When I watched them practice against the Chargers on Thursday, the Cowboys were using Jones around end a lot, and he looks like he has great burst. The offensive linemen I spoke with all hope he gets a chance at full-time carries, because they believe he and Bryant can be "spark plug" guys.
  • Elam was a critical signing, as he'll be responsible for the secondary calls and has been vitally important in helping the holdover players understand the language Ryan is speaking. I'm interested to see if the secondary looks more organized Sunday night having had an additional week-plus practicing with Elam.
  • The Cowboys are serious about Nagy, who was a seventh-round pick after not playing much in his senior season at Wisconsin. He was seriously hurt in a moped accident as a junior and then was passed on the depth chart by a few other guys, so much of the action he saw as a senior was actually at tight end. But the Cowboys love his athleticism and maturity. They could start him at guard early in the season, and there are some who think he could eventually start at center for them down the road.
Offensive line was the position of greatest need for the Cowboys in this year's draft. They used three of their eight picks on offensive linemen, and all three have been factors so far in training camp. The latest is seventh-rounder Bill Nagy, who took some snaps at left guard with the first-team offense Monday. With Leonard Davis cut, Montrae Holland hurt and Kyle Kosier having moved from left guard to right guard so he could work more closely with rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, left guard is an open position, and the Cowboys are mulling several different options.

"I think we're just continuing to work the different combinations on the offensive line and the guard position is one of them," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in his news conference Monday. "Montrae has been out, so David Arkin played a lot of it the other day. Nagy has done a really nice job for us with the opportunities he's gotten both at guard and center, so he'll take some snaps. We'll just kind of keep working the different combinations and see what feels right."

Lots of moving parts here still. As Todd Archer points out in the link above, Jerry Jones has hinted that Phil Costa, who's been playing center with starting center Andre Gurode out, could be a candidate for left guard. Todd also suggests that Gurode could move to guard (with Costa, presumably, playing center). This has become a major issue to watch as Cowboys camp and the preseason roll along, and Garrett says he's perfectly fine mixing and matching for now if the end result is that they find their best five in time for the season to start.

"I think you'd rather have your starting five guys established, but oftentimes, when you have injuries or young guys or new guys, it becomes a little bit of a work in progress," Garrett said. "We feel like we have some options to look at. You'd rather have the starting five guys that have been playing together for eight years, but that's not really the case in the NFL, so you adjust accordingly."

Playing the numbers and hoping someone steps up to make the decisions easy for them. This is where the Cowboys appear to be with their offensive line. The reviews on Arkin last week were good. Guess they want to see if Nagy can be even better.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Broncos

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
12:40
AM ET
I'm not sure if there are fans out there who care whether or not their teams actually win preseason games. But if you're a Dallas Cowboys fan and you do, then the ending of Thursday night's preseason opener was fun. Stephen McGee's touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris in the final minute, and the two-point conversion play that followed to give the Cowboys a 24-23 exhibition victory over the Denver Broncos, provided decent (if meaningless) theater for fans happy to have football back after so long.

Of course, if you're enough of a fan to care about the final score, you almost certainly care even more about the stuff that was going on hours earlier, when the first-teamers were in the game. Here's what I saw from the Cowboys in their first preseason game:

1. The defense is a work in progress, and appears to know it. They've had just two weeks, since the lockout ended, to learn and adjust to Rob Ryan's new scheme. They are still learning. Especially in the secondary, there were lots of times early on where guys were looking around or at each other after the play as if they were trying to figure out what should have happened. The safeties got caught looking into the backfield at critical times. They did a fine job on the goal line in the first quarter, holding the Broncos to a field goal after Kyle Orton had marched down the field somewhat easily, and they got some nice pressure from defensive ends Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher. But overall, this looked like a defense that's still learning. And that's fine. No one would have expected them to know Ryan's scheme already. He's keeping things simple, withholding the kinds of complicated blitzes and fake-out looks we'll surely see from him as his players get more comfortable with their assignments. These preseason games will be part of the learning process for a defense that will surely look better one, two and three months hence than it does now, and the Cowboys should not be judged on their inability to stop Orton or Tim Tebow on this particular night.

2. Tyron Smith is talented. The Cowboys' first-round draft pick failed to pick up a safety blitz, and that led to a sack. But overall, he held his own against the Broncos' line. What I liked best may have been the fact that, after almost every play, you could see Smith talking to Kyle Kosier as they walked back to the huddle. Moving the veteran Kosier to the right side to play next to the rookie Smith was a sharp idea, and as Smith also uses these games as learning opportunities, he'll benefit from proximity to the Cowboys' brainy guard.

3. More Victor Butler, please. If they don't think they can snap Anthony Spencer back into his late-2009 form, why not use Butler as a pass-rusher on the side opposite DeMarcus Ware? All reports indicate that he's looked good in practice and has a grasp of the scheme and the playbook. He was everywhere Thursday night when he was in the game. With a new coordinator in town, it makes sense to think guys will have chances to play their way into more playing time and larger roles, and Butler could be such a guy.

4. Felix Jones looks speedy. I mean, real nice bust through the line in his first-quarter action. We didn't see Tashard Choice or DeMarco Murray tonight, and Lonyae Miller failed to impress in what was thought to be his big chance. But Jones looked like a guy who wants to be a full-time starting running back in the league and has the tools to make it happen. Time will tell if this is the year, whether he'll have the opportunity to do so and how much he'll rotate with Choice and Murray. But Jones was fun to watch Thursday.

5. How about Dwayne Harris? There doesn't appear to be an immediate threat on the roster to Kevin Ogletree's hold on the No. 3 receiver spot. But if Ogletree struggles, there are some playmakers further down the depth chart. Harris caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and looked tough as he created space and outfought a defender or two for the ball in a couple of spots.

6. Of course David Buehler's field goal was good. Hey, look. As I watched it, I was sure it had missed, too. But the official is standing right there under the upright, and there's pretty much no way to miss that call. It was ugly, but it was good, and it was the only field goal either he or Dan Bailey, his competitor for the kicker job, attempted all night. Buehler made his one extra point attempt and Bailey didn't get a chance at his because of a bungled snap. Bailey handled all the kickoffs, presumably because the Cowboys have no concerns about Buehler's ability to kick the ball through the back of the end zone now that it appears almost everyone can. No blood drawn, it would seem, in the kicker competition Thursday.

7. Stephen McGee. No idea what to make of it, since he was playing with and against backups, but the young man played some very nice football in this game and deserves to be recognized for that. At the very least, he provides potential fodder for the nuts who think Tony Romo should be replaced if the Cowboys don't win the Super Bowl. And that's good. Got to keep the nuts happy.

Let's look at some depth charts

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
9:52
AM ET
I have here on my laptop screen three "unofficial depth charts" -- one each for the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. They arrived as part of the media game notes in advance of preseason games, which begin the day after tomorrow. On Monday, I got the ones for the Cowboys and Eagles, who open preseason play Thursday. This morning I got the one for the Redskins, whose preseason opener is Friday. I am assuming that the Giants, who play Saturday, will send theirs tomorrow. (See what I did there? I incorporated simple addition and knowledge of the calendar. My sons' elementary school teachers would be so proud.)

Anyway, these don't, technically, mean anything. The teams call them "unofficial" just so we remember that. But they are fun, and here at the NFC East blog we're all about having fun. So let's take a look at a couple of things I noticed about each of the three I have so far that you, my dear readers, might find interesting. (And don't worry, Giants fans, you'll get your turn when I get your depth chart.)

Dallas Cowboys

Not a lot of surprises here. The Cowboys don't list their injured players as front-line starters, so Phil Costa is listed as the first-string center with Andre Gurode listed in brackets at the back of the depth chart as an injured player. They still have Montrae Holland listed as the starting right guard even though he's hurt, too, and David Arkin started there in Sunday's scrimmage. Arkin is listed as Kyle Kosier's backup at left guard, but we know that the alignment was changed Monday so that Arkin was starting with the first team at left guard and Kosier moved over to the right to start next to rookie tackle Tyron Smith.

Felix Jones is listed as the starting running back, though Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray are listed in brackets because of injury and therefore pose no unofficial-depth-chart threat at the moment. Jones' backup on the depth chart is Lonyae Miller. Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holley are the wide receivers listed immediately behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin at those two positions, for what that's worth. Brings into focus the fact that they could use help at that No. 3 receiver spot.

On defense, they have Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky starting at defensive end, and Sean Lee starting next to Bradie James at inside linebacker with Keith Brooking hurt. Orlando Scandrick is the starting cornerback opposite Mike Jenkins and in place of the injured Terence Newman, and Alan Ball is listed as Jenkins' backup. Free-agent signees Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam are the starting safeties.

And David Buehler is still listed as the kicker ahead of Dan Bailey, but as I understand it that's not yet settled. Overall, it's tough to get a clear picture of the Cowboys' depth chart because of all the injuries.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles still list Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, neither of whom has yet had a full practice, as their starting receivers. So the Dream Team rolls a bit differently, depth chart-wise, than does America's Team. Their backups are listed as Riley Cooper and Jason Avant, who are obviously more likely to play Thursday than are the listed starters. Ryan Harris is listed as the starting right tackle and Winston Justice isn't listed at all (presumably because he's on that PUP list). Jamaal Jackson is still listed as the starting center, though you need to keep an eye on Jason Kelce and how much he plays against the Ravens. They also list Vince Young as the No. 2 quarterback, ahead of Mike Kafka.

On defense, the Eagles' first-team line is listed as Trent Cole, Antonio Dixon, Mike Patterson and Juqua Parker. Obviously, Patterson's health concerns have taken him out of the mix for the time being, and Dixon has been limited due to injury. So you're more likely to see Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove at those defensive tackle spots, with Trevor Laws in the mix once he's healthy. Deep rotation on the line, where free-agent signing Jason Babin is a second-team defensive end along with Darryl Tapp. They're listing Casey Matthews as the starting middle linebacker in between Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou, and Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha are the starting cornerbacks. Kurt Coleman is listed as the starting free safety opposite Nate Allen and in front of rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett.

Johnnie Lee Higgins is listed as the kick returner and as Jackson's backup punt returner.

Washington Redskins

Rex Grossman is listed as the starting quarterback, which is a change from the depth chart Mike Shanahan had on the wall of his office last week and could have something to do with John Beck's groin injury. It'll be interesting to see, if Beck is healthy, which one starts and how much they play. I think they'd like Beck to win the job but are prepared to go with Grossman if Beck falls on his face.

They're also listing Tim Hightower as the starting running back with Ryan Torain injured. But even if Torain were healthy, I believe they prefer Hightower assuming he can control his fumbling problem. Jabar Gaffney is listed as the starting wide receiver along with Santana Moss. Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson are listed as the backups. No surprises on the offensive line.

On defense, they have rookie Ryan Kerrigan starting at outside linebacker opposite Brian Orakpo and Rocky McIntosh starting inside along with London Fletcher. That puts Lorenzo Alexander in a bench/utility role from which he can help in multiple ways. Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker are listed as the defensive ends on either side of nose tackle Barry Cofield. They have Josh Wilson starting at cornerback opposite DeAngelo Hall, and it'll be interesting to see if Wilson holds that job through and after Phillip Buchanon's four-game suspension. Reed Doughty starts at strong safety with LaRon Landry injured, and they're still listing Graham Gano as the kicker ahead of Shayne Graham, though it's possible that whoever shows up first when Shanahan yells "Graham!" will get to kick.

Have fun with it, folks. I'll take questions here and in the chat, at noon ET.

Cowboys' guards switch sides

August, 8, 2011
8/08/11
9:54
PM ET
Wrote something on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line earlier today, but as Ferris Bueller said, life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Kosier
Kosier
What happened since that post ran earlier today is that the Cowboys moved left guard Kyle Kosier over to right guard and slid rookie David Arkin, who'd been playing right guard in the absence of Montrae Holland, to left guard. It's unclear whether it's a permanent move or just a temporary one until Holland is healthy (or another solution is found at right guard). But if Arkin and fellow rookie Tyron Smith are going to be starters on the offensive line, the new alignment makes sense for a number of reasons.

Kosier assumes a lot of responsibility for the line calls in Dallas' offense, and he has been given a degree of credit for helping Doug Free last year in Free's first season as the starter at left tackle. Since Free now has a year under his belt at that spot, it makes some sense to think that his communication and leadership skills could be put to better use on the right side, next to first-round pick Smith as he learns the offense. Certainly, it makes more sense to pair Arkin with the more experienced Free, and Smith with the more experienced Kosier than it does to pair the mutually inexperienced Arkin and Smith together on the same side.

Regardless, the upshot appears to be that, with Leonard Davis cut and Holland injured, Arkin has a real chance to be one of the Cowboys' starting guards in 2011. On one side of the line or the other. We'll see, as the preseason rolls along, whether or not he can take advantage of this chance.
Every day is different, for everybody and every team. And so, at the end of a crazy day tracking, dissecting and analyzing all of the moves being made and not being made in the NFC East, we like to pause and ask each team a simple question: How was your day ...

Dallas Cowboys?

"Fiscally responsible." Yeah, that's not a real exciting answer. And as pretty much every one of their fans will tell you, the Cowboys haven't had a real exciting week. But while Jerry Jones would surely love to be slugging it out for Nnamdi Asomugha and the other top free agents, the fact is the Cowboys had to start this offseason slowly. Thursday, they added Marc Colombo to the list of cuts that will trim more than $19 million in payroll and help get them under the cap. They agreed to terms with left guard Kyle Kosier one day after bringing back left tackle Doug Free. They signed first-round pick and projected starting right tackle Tyron Smith and then immediately let linebacker DeMarcus Ware go to work on him in his first training-camp practice. But they did nothing to address their holes on defense, and in fact they lost one of their free-agent defensive ends, Stephen Bowen, to the Redskins. But that loss could be a gain. Bowen got a surprisingly huge deal (five years, $27.5 million, $12.5 million guaranteed), and the Cowboys don't believe he was worth that much. That deal could actually help them get the defensive end they want, the Packers' Cullen Jenkins, who'd been talking to the Redskins but no longer is. The Cowboys still need two safeties, two defensive ends and maybe another offensive lineman. But they'll get them. Fans just need to be patient. This may not be the most exciting Cowboys offseason ever, but it will surely be more productive than it's been so far. They are crawling before they walk.

New York Giants?

"Newsy." The Giants are still working and waiting on the resolution of their negotiations with Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, but they did knock out a new deal for Mathias Kiwanuka on Thursday. And Bradshaw lost a lot of his leverage when the Dolphins, with whom he and his agent had been playing kissy-face, acquired Reggie Bush, so they should be able to get him at something closer to their price. But this day for the Giants was more about people talking -- John Mara talking about Plaxico Burress and Osi Umenyiora, the team talking to David Diehl about moving from tackle to guard and to Will Beatty about starting at left tackle, Rich Seubert and Shaun O'Hara talking about being cut ... lots of talking. There was even a report that the Giants were talking to Brad Maynard about coming in to replace shaky punter Matt Dodge. The talking -- at least to the free agents -- will soon lead to results one way or the other. But there was no shortage of interesting storylines coming out of Giantsland on Thursday.

Philadelphia Eagles?

"Cathartic." Yeah, they finally got that Kevin Kolb deal done. Felt like it took forever, right? Well, that's only because of that little lockout thing we no longer like to talk about. The end result is that the Eagles have their starting right cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick next year and will need to go find a veteran backup for Michael Vick, which won't be too hard. They also agreed to terms on a five-year contract with defensive end Jason Babin, who was much better last season with the Titans than he was in his first stint as an Eagle. But he should be OK since he'll be working with former Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who's now in Philly. They still need to address linebacker and backup running back and maybe offensive line, but the actual moves they got to do Thursday will help, and at least they provided some distraction from this very icky DeSean Jackson holdout situation.

Washington Redskins?

"Productive." I'm sorry. I don't think they'll contend in 2011, but I really, really like what the Redskins are doing. Sure, they overpaid for Bowen. But as someone pointed out to me on my extremely active Twitter day, the Redskins (a) have the money and (b) sort of have to overpay right now to get guys to go there, right? Like cornerback Josh Wilson, Bowen is a guy who is young and still emerging, and the Redskins are making a bet that he'll be better in the short-term future than he is now. They are a future-focused team and should be, and their moves have reflected that. Another example: They cut veteran center Casey Rabach and reportedly agreed to terms with Chris Chester, who can replace Rabach at center or play guard if Will Montgomery or Kory Lichtensteiger does. Still need a right tackle, but the defense starts to look pretty doggone respectable with the additions of Wilson, Bowen and Barry Cofield. Oh, and I almost forget. They dumped Albert Haynesworth on an AFC team before the sun came up. That alone would have made it a decent day for Mike Shanahan no matter what else happened.

Me? Man. My day was kind of nuts. Did some more TV and a whole lot of Twitter conversating with y'all. Enjoyed every single bit of it and can't wait for tomorrow.

How was your day?

Cowboys bring back Kyle Kosier

July, 28, 2011
7/28/11
7:10
AM ET
For the second night in a row, the Cowboys agreed to terms on a new contract with a key piece of the left side of their offensive line. This time, it's left guard Kyle Kosier, who will return to Dallas on a three-year deal worth about $9 million. Tuesday night, they reached agreement on a new deal with left tackle Doug Free.

The Cowboys' focus this offseason was going to be on defense, and in the end it will be. But these two offensive line moves were critical at the outset of free agency. Free was the big name everybody thought they had to keep, but Kosier makes a lot of the line calls from his spot on the left side and was a big help to Free last year in his transition from right tackle to left. With right guard Leonard Davis being cut and center Andre Gurode revealing that he had knee surgery last month, the Cowboys may still have some work to do on the interior of the line. But Free and Kosier were the two key moves, and each seems to have been pulled off without much difficulty.

Now, about those safeties ...

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