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Cowboys Offensive Line Remains NFL’s Best

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Cowboys Camp: Strongest Position?
Tom Fox / The Dallas Morning News

Since dominating the Seattle Seahawks in October of 2014, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been referred to as the best unit in football, almost by default. No matter the next opponent, everyone recognizes and acknowledges that the Cowboys have a chance to control the game on offense due to their powerful five up-front.

Well, this weekend, two of those five departed Dallas for good.

Ronald Leary, who started the entire 2014 season and much of the 2016 season, signed a nice contract with the Denver Broncos. And, Doug Free, a starting tackle for Dallas since 2009, announced his retirement.

Now, a unit which has been characterized by its continuity and dominance is facing some adversity.

Or at least it seems.

How Do the Cowboys Replace Ronald Leary?

Dallas Cowboys Player Profile: G #71 La'el Collins 1

LG La’el Collins (71) (James D. Smith via AP)

This one is simple. Back during the 2015 NFL Draft the Cowboys made two moves which are proving to be incredibly important to their success in 2017. The second of those two moves was signing undrafted free agent offensive lineman La’el Collins.

The former LSU star tackle was projected to be taken during the first two rounds, before being tied in with a police investigation. As it turned out, Collins had nothing to do with the crime, but teams were still afraid to take him on draft day. Collins fell, and the Cowboys pounced.

After taking over the starting left guard job from Leary in 2015, Collins flashed the spectacular ability which draft pundits had predicted he’d have.

Despite Changes, Cowboys Offensive Line Will Remain League's Top Unit

Though he certainly had his issues in year one, Collins’ athletic ability and pure power put the entire league on notice, and had fans excited to watch him play in 2016. Unfortunately, Collins suffered a severe toe injury during the Cowboys’ week three game against Chicago and missed the rest of the season. It has even been reported that Collins suffered this injury before the season, and he simply played until he couldn’t play anymore.

If true, it would explain his inconsistent play through the first two games of the year.

While Collins was the starter for the first three games of the season, inserting Leary led to a clear improvement of the offensive line. The fact is, Leary was the better player in 2016, but that certainly doesn’t mean that Collins won’t surpass him next year, and beyond.

As long as he can stay healthy, I see no reason why Collins should not continue to improve and become the player everyone has envisioned he can be.

At LSU, Collins was a consistent force, and someone who rarely made mistakes. He played with incredible pass blocking technique, and ran block with an edge of nastiness that you love to see in offensive linemen. Now in year three, it’s time for La’el Collins to bring that to Dallas, and become a force on the Cowboys’ offensive line.

How Do the Cowboys Replace Doug Free?

This is where things get a bit trickier.

First thing’s first, Doug Free’s retirement frees up about $5 million in cap space in 2017. If any free agent tackles interest the Cowboys, even if just for depth/security, they will be able to make that move.

I, however, don’t expect any rash decisions to be made through free agency. Apparently, the Cowboys knew of Free’s plans to retire from the start of the free agency period, so if they haven’t contacted any tackles by now, it is hard to imagine they’re rushing to the phones at this point.

So instead, we look to two places; the current roster and the NFL Draft.

Chaz Green, Third Year, OLChaz Green

The first of the two critical offensive line moves of the 2015 NFL Draft, former third round pick Chaz Green is now slated to be the starting right tackle for Dallas in 2017. Back in January, I discussed why Chaz Green was so critical to the Cowboys’ roster. And, most importantly, why his health is absolutely critical.

When Tyron Smith was forced to miss some time earlier in the season, Green filled in and played rather well. The running game did not miss a beat, and in pass protection, the Cowboys remained stellar.

Of course, there was some drop off from the best tackle in football to a first-time starter, but overall I was pleased with Green’s play. He seemed to be fluid in his kick steps, delivered better punches in pass protection than I had seen him deliver, and worked well with Ronald Leary on deuce blocks on zone running plays.

While he looked serviceable, Chaz Green certainly did not look like another All-Pro on the Cowboys offensive line. But that’s okay. As a third round pick, however, he was drafted to be the successor to Doug Free. Now is time for him to either come through or potentially get labeled as a bust.

Emmett Cleary, Third Year, OL

After La’el Collins went down in September, the Cowboys signed little-known Emmett Cleary to fill some roster space on their offensive line. Nobody expected Cleary to ever take a game rep for the Cowboys offensive line, but when filling in for Tyron Smith during the season finale, Cleary was impressive.

Staff Writer Sean Martin reviewed Cleary’s game tape from that loss to Philadelphia, and came away just as impressed as I was.

What stood out to me was Cleary’s intelligence at the position, knowing how to set up defenders when he was forced to compensate for a lack of physical skill. As a point-of-attack-blocker, Cleary controls blockers with a strong base and can move them off the line of scrimmage.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

I don’t need to draft a tackle in the first 4 rounds anymore. I’m perfectly happy with Cleary and whatever Green may be. Collins emergency. https://t.co/HyLpPER7eJ

To be honest, Cleary was the better of the two Cowboys tackles that day, with the recently retired Doug Free getting shredded by Brandon Graham snap-after-snap. Is Cleary going to make “top tackle” lists any time soon? No, probably not. But he can be a solid fill-in player who will be put in the perfect position to succeed here in Dallas. Playing next to three other Pro Bowlers, and directly beside Zack Martin (who may be the best offensive lineman in the entire league), the right tackle does not need to be another stud.

Considering that their other four linemen don’t need much help at all in pass protection, Dallas can afford to give some tight end help, or chip with a running back on the right side.

Because of this, both Chaz Green and/or Emmett Cleary should be absolutely fine at right tackle. Similar to how people called Dallas the perfect place for a rookie quarterback to shine due to the weapons and security around him, it is also the perfect situation for a new right tackle.

So, despite all the flux on this Cowboys offensive line this past weekend, there is no reason to fret. Dallas still features stars Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin. They still have one of the best running backs in the league running behind them in Ezekiel Elliott. And, they have some pretty good replacements to fill-in for Ronald Leary and Doug Free.

The Cowboys’ offensive line should be just fine.

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Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and am currently a college student. Lets get going.

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2 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    I read a article over the weekend on another website stating that the cowboys might not be able to duplicate the success on the ground because of the lost of Doug Free LOL!! I couldn’t stop laughing Do they not know Who’s on our line?? Do they not know that Free was the weak link on the best line in football?? It was a hilarious post I couldn’t get over We have the best line with just Smith,Frederick,and Martin. Collins is a bonus and Green could be good if he can stay on the field. And they might draft another one just for the hell of it

    • https://kevinrobertbrady.wordpress.com Kevin Brady

      I think we’ve become a bit spoiled when it comes to o-linemen. Most offenses don’t have one All-Pro, we have three! Thanks for reading, Travis.

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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