The Dallas Cowboys have made it clear for most of the last decade that they’re determined to dominate in the trenches utilizing a powerful offensive line. From 2014 to 2016, it was not only regarded by most as the top offensive line in the NFL but arguably the best unit on either side of the ball. Injuries and departures have taken their toll on this group in recent years, but with excellent drafting and strategic offseason acquisitions, all signs point to this line taking back the top spot.
The biggest return, hopefully, will be All-Pro Center, Travis Frederick. Having missed all of 2018 battling Guillain-Barre Syndrome, he has made great strides in reclaiming his throne as the game’s top center, if he ever fell off it that is, seemingly picking back up where he left off chemistry wise with Dak Prescott when OTA’s began. Ultimately, once he’s back in full contact in training camp, then we’ll really know where he’s at.
The Cowboys do have some insurance at the position with veteran backup Joe Looney, who is entering his fourth season with the team. He started all 16 games and performed very solid making all the necessary pre-snap reads like Frederick had done for years before him. Proving just how valuable depth really is in the league.
Zack Martin is going to be his usual all-pro self at right guard, you can pencil that in today, having received such honors whether it be the first or second team in each of his first five seasons. He’s not only dominant but durable, starting 78 out of a possible 80 games since 2014. Playing once again alongside Travis Frederick makes the interior of this offensive line that much more powerful.
The left guard spot isn’t as edged in stone. 2018 second round pick Connor Williams started 10 games but suffered a knee injury that kept him out for several weeks. His backup Xavier Su’a-Filo played well in his absence logging 8 starts in his first season with the team, making him a lot easier to trust with time served under his belt. Then there’s Connor McGovern, drafted in the third in this year draft, a potential plug-in starter who will definitely be in the mix for playing time. This will definitely be one of the more intriguing position battles going forward. The Cowboys are still trying to find the heir apparent to Ronald Leary who was lost after the 2016 season.
Tyron Smith is still one of, if not the best in the league when healthy at left tackle, but health hasn’t always been on his side lately. Nine games missed due to several injuries over the past three seasons has called into question whether or not it’s time to find the successor for the perennial all-pro. Veteran Cam Fleming, who was picked up via free agency in 2018, provided much-needed experience in Smith’s absence. That’s been the only knock recently, availability, because it’s clear when he’s on the field that right side defensive ends would be better off looking for sunshine at midnight than expecting sacks on Sunday’s. Entering year nine it’s understandable that monitoring his health will be key going forward, but make no mistake about it, Smith is still causing sleepless nights for defensive line coaches league-wide.
La’el Collins is entering a contract year. He hasn’t exactly locked down the right tackle spot, at least not to the level that the organization has full confidence that he’s the guy. The talent is there, but not necessarily the continued progression you’d like to see. What also makes this position interesting is that the previously mentioned Connor Williams took snaps at left tackle opposite Collins when Tyron Smith had a veterans day off during OTA’s. This was an easy switch considering he spent three years as a starter at the position during his days at the University of Texas. Could this mean they are preparing to move Williams to right tackle if Collins isn’t brought back in 2020? Putting Connor McGovern in line to secure the left guard spot? Only time will tell.
All the projected starters are under the age of 30. That means there’s plenty of football left in these mammoth’s, and a lot more lanes for Ezekiel Elliot to run through for the foreseeable future. Former Quarterback Tony Romo had the best season of his career once he finally got the offensive line he needed. Now with Dak Prescott just entering his prime, and youth plus experience on the line of scrimmage, this offense is set to be elite for quite a while.
How important is this unit? They set the tone for the entire team by mauling the opposing defensive line and controlling the clock. This allows your defense to be fresh at all times, especially in fourth quarters when games usually get tight in the NFL. These hogs are the first dominoes to fall and make life easier for their teammates. It starts in the trenches.
Established all-pros? The Cowboys offensive line has three. Reliable backups for depth purposes? They have several of those too. The identity of this team starts with the big boys up front. Offensive line coach Marc Colombo has all the tools he needs in his toolshed, and with the injury god’s hopefully in their favor, this line has everything it needs to bully it’s way back to the playoffs.