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La’el Collins Move to RT is Cowboys’ Best Option for 2017

Jess Haynie

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La'el Collins

Position changes are far more common in Madden than the real NFL, but they can happen. This year, it looks like the Cowboys will “edit” La’el Collins and switch him from left guard to right tackle. If they’re like me, they’ll also add about five points to Strength and change his Development trait to “Superstar.”

The other day, fellow staff writer Brian Martin asserted that Collins’ move to right tackle is a mistake. Brian made several solid points to back up his opinion, but I find myself on the other side of this issue. If you haven’t already, I invite you to read his article and then come back to check out my counterpoints.

La'el Collins

La’el Collins (James D. Smith via AP)

“I’m a firm believer that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is at offensive guard. In fact, if not for the foot injury that wiped out nearly his entire 2016 season, he likely would have been named to his first Pro Bowl.”

I actually don’t disagree with Collins’ best position being guard. However, I disagree with the premise that this means it’s the only position he should play.

Offensive and defensive lines are all about stability. Their effectiveness is often a composite of the ability of all players involved. You can say the same of most NFL positions but it’s especially true here, where one weak spot can quickly undermine the entire group.

Consider the Cowboys’ defensive line. The lack of a single catalytic pass rusher has neutered that group for several seasons. They’re trying to find one guy who can consistently make opponents nervous and create more opportunities for everyone else.

Similarly, a liability on the offensive line can be damning. We have seen this too often with Doug Free‘s penalties or breakdowns in pass protection. Big plays getting called back for flags kills the effort of 10 other guys, and often the drive itself. All it takes is one loose pass rusher to blow up a drive and maybe your quarterback.

The Cowboys aren’t making this move for the fun of it. They must see Collins as the best option at right tackle or else they’d leave him where he is. It’s about preserving the greatness of the offensive line from one end to the other.

La'el Collins

La’el Collins in his college days, where he played offensive tackle.

“I think at best, Collins is probably an average right tackle in the NFL. I’m not even sure if he will be an upgrade over Doug Free. Collins couldn’t unseat Free before, but now he’s the best option?”

This is probably where I disagree most with Brian’s logic. Doug Free, 31-years-old in the in 2015 offseason, was a better player than Doug Free last year at age 33. And really, was Collins ever really considered as a potential Free replacement? Was competition even open at right tackle, with Free coming off a record-breaking season for the Cowboys running game?

La’el got moved to guard for the same reason that we just discussed; he is likely a more dominant player there than at tackle. However, it was also based on the circumstances of the team at the time. Doug Free was a fixture and leader, while Ronald Leary was a guy with ticking time bombs in his knees and a shorter contract. At that point, the more immediate need for Collins was at guard.

“Chaz Green was drafted to take over for Doug Free. He is likely the best option if he can remain healthy.”

Remember, Collins became a first-round draft prospect playing offensive tackle at LSU. Chaz Green was a third-round pick that many felt was a reach. Collins’ pedigree is superior, so assuming Green is better suited to play the position now is faulty.

We have seen that La’el Collins is very athletic and has the physical skills to play tackle. He may need work on his technique, but that’s why you make the move now instead of being forced into it later in the offseason, or even during the regular season. Get him comfortable and solidified at tackle now so that one position, left guard, is your only real question mark.

Ronald Leary

G Ronald Leary

“Collins is the only player on the Cowboys roster who can play left guard and improve the position after Ronald Leary’s departure. Anyone else is probably a downgrade…”

I’m not here to bash Leary, but I think it’s easy to overestimate how hard he’ll be to replace. Much of Leary’s success came from being part of this great line and positioned between maybe the best left tackle and center in the entire league.

Don’t get me wrong; Leary had ability. He went undrafted in 2012 because of the fear about his knees and was likely a mid-round pick otherwise. Leary was way better than most undrafted players.

Still, is it that hard to imagine Jonathan Cooper having success in his place? Cooper, a former seventh-overall pick in 2013, has bounced around the league because of health problems and difficulty finding the right fit. There is no easier spot to play left guard in the NFL than between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, so could this be where he finally gets to settle in and realize his potential?

Cooper is still just 27 and was once a coveted draft prospect by most teams, including the Cowboys. The same coaches and scouts who liked him four years ago are here now, which is why Cooper landed in Dallas to begin with.

The same logic goes for Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary, or even Chaz Green. Simply, guard is an easier position than tackle. Even the great Cowboys line of the 90s had John Gesek, a former 10th-round pick, starting for two Super Bowls championships.

~ ~ ~

Obviously, this is mostly conjecture and speculation at this point. We’re basing analysis on the unseen; be it Collins’ ability to play NFL tackle or Cooper, Green, and anyone else’s ability to be a full-time starter with this line. Training camp and preseason will give us way more evidence on which to base more substantive opinions.

Dallas will continue to tweak and experiment with different lineups to find the best five guys for 2017. Three positions are set and we know La’el Collins will occupy one of the other two. However it shakes out, Dallas has given themselves good options to maintain the greatness of their offensive line as the foundation for championship contention.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I’ll be sure to respond!

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1 Comment
  • ThePsychodad69

    As I wrote to Brian if the guys who are paid to talk about sports had any clue I guarantee they would work for a team.

    Trust me I read the Mothership daily and the 1 that has a clue wasn’t good enough to stay a scout and the rest probably never played a sport.

    LA was a amazing HOF guard, could he have moved permanently to tackle when he filled in for a injury, sure and made the HOF anyway, but the team needed him @ guard. OTs make way more money he could have stayed there just for the payday.

    Collins is a better athlete than Green, I could see him holding it down for 3 more years or if somebody wants him so bad they give up some picks to get him when he’s a RFA.

    My feeling is Green hasn’t proved healthy so far and every year we have a unicorn, BearualtWilliamsJohnson a few WRs. Collins for all intents is playing, not nursing a injury or on a abbreviated workout schedule so why force Green on the field with all the 2nd yearFAUDFAs that can play OGCOT. They have 6 players for 3 spots @ OG & Swing TackleSwing COG.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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Dallas Cowboys

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job

Sean Martin

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job 1

By keeping all three top coaches (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli) in place for 2018, there isn’t a Dallas Cowboys coaching hire that feels like they “must” get it right to contend next season. This is how it should be.

Producing nine wins, despite missing key players throughout the season, the Cowboys are changing things up at the position coach level to hopefully introduce new ideas and give the talent on this team a better chance at sustained success.

One coaching vacancy that needs to be filled by the right guy above any else is on the offensive line, where things haven’t been the same since the great Bill Callahan departed.

Frank Pollack took his place, and now finds himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after not being retained by Dallas this offseason.

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job

Tom Cable (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

The first name that was thrown around in consideration for the Cowboys job was Tom Cable, which sent a panic throughout Cowboys Nation before Cable decided to sign with John Gruden and the Raiders.

Cable had been coaching the Seahawks’ OL, a position that franchise has not valued in some time, and struggled to develop any talent in protection of their franchise QB Russell Wilson.

Now, two new names have emerged as candidates to coach the likes of two-time 1st Team All-Pro LT Tyron Smith, 1st Team All-Pro C Travis Frederick, and two-time 1st Team All-Pro RG Zack Martin.

Mike Solari and Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has already met with the Dallas Cowboys, looking for work after 23 seasons with the Bengals. During this time, Alexander served as Marvin Lewis’ assistant head coach, in addition to his duties as their OL coach.

Judging on reactions out of Cincinnati to Alexander’s departure, the Bengals offensive line regressed under him in 2017, warranting change from a franchise that is as reluctant as any to move on from coaches.

Goodberry on Twitter

Paul Alexander better be gone

Most recently, Mike Solari has served as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants — far from a renowned unit around the NFL lately. He does have previous experience with the Cowboys, having served as an assistant OL and special teams coach here from 1987-88.

From 2006-07, Solari did reach the rank of offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, which shows the level of respect that the 30-year NFL coaching veteran has earned.

He will be the Dallas Cowboys’ next interview for their open OL coach position.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins, RG Zack Martin

Depth at tackle, a long-term answer at left guard, and an extension for Zack Martin are among the questions facing the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. Whoever is in charge of keeping this unit up to standard in 2018 though, may hold the keys to getting the entirety of the Cowboys’ program back on track.

Whether it’s Alexander, Solari, or another outside candidate yet to emerge, Inside The Star will keep you updated on the Cowboys’ ongoing coaching search.

Tell us what you think about “Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Defensive Back Questions Still Need Answers

John Williams

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Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys defense took a step forward in 2017, and in the process they answered several questions. They found a “war daddy” in DeMarcus Lawrence, something that’s been missing since DeMarcus Ware left for the Denver Broncos. Lawrence finished tied for second with Calais Campbell in sacks with 14.5, and made the NFL All-Pro Second Team.

We got to see Jaylon Smith answer questions about his health all season long. Smith appears to be trending in the right direction, both in his health and his performance on the field.

The plan to rebuild the secondary seems to be on the right track as they’ve found a couple of aggressive corners in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. They have the look of a dynamic duo that will be impact players on this team for a long, long time.

Kavon Frazier has been a revelation. The thumper at the safety position is something that’s been missing for the Dallas Cowboys since Roy Williams.

However, questions still remain about a defense that carried this team at times, and looked like the Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin defenses of yesteryear at other times.

To me the biggest questions in the secondary revolve around Byron Jones and Xavier Woods.

Cowboys en Español: Proyectando el Roster de 53 Jugadores 2

Dallas Cowboys S Byron Jones (James D. Smith via AP)

Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods Fit?

Byron Jones has been a popular whipping boy for Cowboys Nation. Some of that has been accurate, but he’s not as bad as social media would have you believe.

He’s been sticky in coverage, especially against tight ends, throughout his career, but in 2017 it seemed like he was shying away from tackling a bit too much. He still has that tremendous athleticism and coverage ability that warranted a first-round pick, but the question remains: What is his best position?

After playing where needed his rookie season, the Cowboys coaching staff moved him to safety for the last couple of years with mixed results.

As stated, he’s been pretty good in coverage and made some incredible plays on the ball, even if he’s lacking the interception numbers. The problem comes, in my opinion, when he’s asked to make tackles in space, which is an important aspect of being a safety.

Many have begun to wonder if Dallas would be best served moving Jones back to corner.

As a cornerback, Jones would be able to use his athleticism and coverage skills against the bigger wide receivers in the league, but not be asked to make as many tackles in the middle of the field against running backs and tight ends.

They can still bring him in against some of the better tight ends in the league. We already know the Cowboys will face Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins, and Evan Engram of the New York Giants for a total of six games in 2018.

Dallas will also face the likes of Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffrey and Marvin Jones, who are bigger more athletic wide receivers who could require a man of Byron’s skill.

It will be interesting to see what they do with Byron this offseason.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 3

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

The same question applies to Xavier Woods, but not because he struggled. He was actually quite good as the slot corner throughout much of his rookie season.

Woods primarily played safety in his time at Louisiana Tech, and showed an ability to be the deep middle safety. Because of injuries to the cornerback group, Woods lined up as the slot corner for a lot of his snaps.

He played well there for Dallas, leaving many to wonder if he hasn’t earned the role of third cornerback. That may be a good fit, but it’s not typical to see a guy who was primarily a safety in college become a corner in the NFL.

I’d rather see him as a full-time safety.

With Woods at safety, Dallas can stay in their base defense when teams go to three wide receiver formations, especially on early downs or in situations where a run is just as likely. He can drop down from the safety spot to play in the slot, if — and it’s a big if — you trust your single-high safety.

Woods’ ability to cover in the slot allows you to stay competitive against the run, which was a struggle for Dallas.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

We’ve seen how the yo-yo game between positions can affect a player’s technique and mentality. Chaz Green wasn’t the same player in 2017 when asked to prepare as both a guard and a tackle, as opposed to 2016 when he strictly played tackle.

In my opinion, it would be to the Dallas Cowboys interest to move Byron Jones back to cornerback full-time, and move Woods to safety.

When you decide to go to your nickel package, Chidobe Awuzie and Jones play the outside with Jourdan Lewis moving to the middle. Or you bring Jones in to cover the tight end, leave Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, and drop Woods into the slot and play cover 1.

What do you think?

Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods fit best on this team?

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