It could be argued that the downfall of the 2017 Cowboys had more to do with left tackle Tyron Smith’s injuries than any other factor.
Sure Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six critical games, Dak Prescott’s play declined down the stretch, Sean Lee missed three crucial losses, and questionable coaching decisions seemed to be made week after week. But when Tyron Smith was healthy and playing the first 8 games of the season, any and all of the Cowboys’ issues seemed to be masked.
The reasoning behind this is simple. Dallas is built around their three All Pro offensive linemen, they value running the football and winning the physicality battle at the line of scrimmage over any other element of offense. And, when this key strength is handcuffed due to injury, and inexperienced backups are forced to play, things go downhill rather quickly.
Or, at least they did in 2017.
Heading into the 2018 season opener, it’s a different member of that All Pro trio who will be out. Center Travis Frederick is facing a rather serious issue, diagnosed with Gullian-Barre Syndrome. I’m far from a doctor, but anyone who spends five minutes on the WebMD page describing this illness knows how awful it can be.
Frederick’s health and livelihood is way more important than his availability for a football game, but he is out indefinitely for the Cowboys. Replacing him, like replacing Smith a year ago, will be the most important challenge the Cowboys face in 2018.
Joe Looney has been tasked with aiding the Cowboys in overcoming this challenge, moving into the starting center role while Frederick is out. Best known for impersonating Ezekiel Elliott’s crop-top practice jersey, Joe Looney is now looking to make a name for himself as the center.
The seven year veteran entered the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers, bouncing around the league a bit before landing with the Cowboys in 2016. Looney has played the “first interior lineman off the bench” role for Dallas since then, even seeing time in 6 linemen sets over the past two seasons.
Looney has been a career backup lineman, only starting 10 games in the four years prior to joining the Cowboys. Due to the reliability of Frederick and guard Zack Martin, Looney hasn’t actually started a game during his career in Dallas (those 3 starts are 6 OL sets).
Looney had a relatively impressive preseason, looking more athletic at the second level than we had seen in the past. This will prove incredibly important when the Cowboys run their bread-and-butter run play, outside zone.
Joe Looney hasn’t seen much playing time during his time with the Cowboys. This Sunday, however, Joe Looney might be the most important player on the field, as he looks to fill an All Pro’s shoes.