With plenty of discussion ongoing about the Cowboys’ left guard position, the two names you hear most are Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green. It seems like most analysts aren’t giving veterans Byron Bell and Joe Looney much of a shot in this competition, and that could be a mistake.
No to go Full Jaworski on you, but experience is huge in the National Football League. Overall professional experience is one asset and system familiarity, especially time with your team, is another. These could play huge factors in who is best suited to join Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins in the starting lineup next season.
Byron Bell has started 72 games in five NFL seasons, which dwarfs the 14 starts by Cooper and just two for Green. While more of those came at tackle than guard, Bell moved inside in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers so has plenty of familiarity with the role.
Bell made news recently for coming in under his weight goal and earning a contract bonus. The goal was 320 pounds and we don’t know exactly how far below it he was. One would assume, though, that Bell is still plenty big enough to play guard if desired.
Shedding weight will help Bell to make it on this offensive line with how much they are asked to get in space. One of the Dallas line’s best traits is in its movement on outside runs and screens. To even have a chance at starting, Byron has to be able to keep up.
Bell missed all of 2016 with a severe ankle injury. He started all 16 games in 2015 for the Tennessee Titans after signing as a free agent, spending his first four seasons with the Panthers. Despite going undrafted, Bell was starting by Week 6 of his rookie year and went to the playoffs twice.
While he hasn’t had nearly as much starting experience as Bell, Joe Looney has more experience as a Dallas Cowboy. Signed last year to replace Mackenzy Bernadeau as the backup center, Looney dressed in all 16 games and was credited with three starts. He was used in a six-linemen package to open two games and also started the Cowboys Week 17 finale, which was little more than a preseason game.
With La’el Collins hurt most of last year, Looney was trusted to be the Cowboys primary backup at both guard and center. That trust is no small thing and could carry over into the left guard competition in 2017. Consider the recent comments by Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus:
Joe Looney was initially there during opening workouts but missed time later with a back issue… I would not be surprised if Looney is the starter, but the coaching staff might feel more comfortable with Cooper — who is a little bit better athlete and a little bit stronger.
It’s no surprise that the Cowboys would love to see Jonathan Cooper, a former Top-10 draft pick who they coveted, earn the spot. Even after a rocky start to his NFL career, Cooper likely has the most perceived upside of all the guard options. But Cooper’s history could easily repeat, and then Bell or Looney are your other two veterans.
The start of training camp should reveal a lot about who Dallas likes most for the left guard position. Without question, it’ll be one of the most-discussed storylines when the Cowboys get to Oxnard next month.