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Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Interior Offensive Linemen

Sean Martin

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Zack Martin, Giants
AP Photo / James D Smith

While it is accurate to say that the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is the best in football from Tyron Smith down to Doug Free, the true greatness of these Space Cowboys is found at guard and center.

As I continue my Playoff Primer series, we'll wrap up the offensive line by looking at the embarrassment of riches the Cowboys have on the interior. For my breakdown of the offensive tackles, check out "Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Offensive Tackles".

Let's start in the middle.

Travis Frederick

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Frederick

Not only is Travis Frederick one of the most talented centers in the league, but he is one of the smartest, making him the perfect center-man for this star-studded offensive line. Perhaps Frederick hasn't gotten enough credit for working with rookie QB Dak Prescott, who has noticeably been making plenty of adjustments at the line before receiving a snap from Frederick.

Once thought of as a reach when he was drafted in the first round by Dallas in 2013, Frederick has proven to be an anchor in the middle for the Cowboys. When it comes to the 2016 playoffs, he will have an even better chance to prove his worth, as the team's the Cowboys may face all present tough interior defenders.

Whether it is the 3-4 look of the Green Bay Packers or another match up with Damon Harrison and the New York Giants, Frederick is going to have his hands full throughout the playoffs - but should be up to the challenge as a blocker that excels with leverage and relatively consistent short-range power.

Long live the beard.

Ronald Leary

Where would the Dallas Cowboys be without Ronald Leary? Once seen as an off season distraction when he held out over losing his job to La'el Collins, Leary is now the starter this team needs at left guard. A veteran that can be trusted, Leary has the luxury of playing between Frederick and Tyron Smith - but individually excels as a run and pass blocker.

Leary has handled his new situation as a starter like a professional, and even if it just to get paid elsewhere for 2017, he can be a huge part of hopefully guiding the 2016 Cowboys deep into the playoffs.

Leary did not play in week 17 against the Eagles, and had at times before this looked slightly off his game. Hopefully the two weeks off will rejuvenate Dallas' starter at LG, who just consistently blocks any defender thrown at him throughout the day without a worry.

Zack Martin

Fun fact: I own a Zack Martin jersey.

Also a fun fact: Martin is arguably the best guard in the NFL. While Ron Leary puts in work as a reliable left guard, Martin absolutely dominates at the right guard position for the Cowboys on every snap - and has since his rookie year in 2014.

Just watch the holes that Ezekiel Elliott ran through to become this season's rushing champion, and you'll often see a blue #70 in front of him paving a path to the second level.

Martin is not only an elite run blocker that will thrive this postseason, but he limits pass rushers as soon as he gets his hands on them - a trait that is often thrown around when discussing linemen, but rarely seen at the quality that Martin exhibits.

Perhaps the biggest difference for the Cowboys going into the 2016 playoffs compared to 2014 is that their workhorse back is much more well-rested. If Zeke Elliott is going to eat his way to Houston and Super Bowl LI like we all think he's capable of, he will owe a ton of credit (and maybe another ATV?) to Zack Martin.

Jonathan Cooper

//insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/film-room-what-can-jonathan-cooper-bring-to-dallas/

My fellow Staff Writer and New Jersey resident Kevin Brady already did most of the leg work right here when it comes to breaking down what the recently signed Jonathan Cooper can bring to the Cowboys as a backup guard.

Cooper, a former first round pick, has yet to settle in to a long-term role in the NFL - bouncing around as a guy that always had the potential but lacked the film to match it at this level. Even still, as a backup here in Dallas, Cooper is one of the best players the Cowboys could have brought in to potentially have to fill in at either guard position.

If called upon in the playoffs, I do worry that Jonathan Cooper may fall behind as a run blocker, with a limited amount of time to learn Scott Linehan's zone blocking scheme. With enough experience and strength though, Cooper is likely as good of a backup lineman as there is to be found on any team currently in the playoffs.

Joe Looney

Of all of the talented guards and centers the Cowboys employ, swing man Joe Looney is probably the one you least want to see have to play in these playoffs. Looney does have some game experience that Cooper does not at left guard for the Cowboys, but this experience has only shown that Looney will struggle greatly throughout the course of a game.

Between the occasional good reps, Looney will get overpowered with bad technique, and more importantly get beat across his face on running plays - a major error in executing the zone scheme.

Looney's value in Dallas comes from the fact that he can play both guard and center, but since we opened this Playoff Primer praising Travis Frederick and all of his awesomeness, Looney will likely serve as just an emergency guard this postseason.

La'el Collins

The X-Factor: La'el Collins

I'm fascinated to see what the Dallas Cowboys do with La'el Collins in the playoffs. Back to work at practice, Collins doesn't have to worry about preparing himself to start at left guard - as Ron Leary has that spot secured.

Instead, the Cowboys are going to have to get creative with how they utilize this first-round talent that they signed after the 2015 draft.

One area this team is thin at right now is tight end, and this offense sorely misses a versatile TE like Geoff Swaim that can block on the edge and present a threat in the passing game. While Collins gives the Cowboys virtually nothing as a pass catcher, lining him up in "Jumbo" sets as a tight end is almost unfair to edge defenders.

With Elliott in the backfield and Collins on the edge, defenses will have to change their entire look, which could lead to more chances for Dez Bryant and other WRs in single coverage. Collins' best trait is his ability to move and block on the run, so I also wouldn't be surprised to see him out in front of those always well-times toss sweeps.

It could be a very fun playoff run for La'el Collins, but his role and overall health is uncertain, making him this unit's x-factor.


As you enjoy Wild Card Weekend, make sure to stay posted to Inside The Star as I round out the offense in this series before moving on to the defense. 

Before kickoff at AT&T Stadium on January 15th, Playoff Primer will preview every position on the Cowboys, and you can discuss any of these articles with me on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ

Tell us what you think about "Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Interior Offensive Linemen" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys

Could Cowboys Have Another “Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey” Debate?

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey

The debate over "Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey" for from the 2016 NFL Draft has never really stopped in Dallas. From before that draft until now, Cowboys fans still argue over which player the team should have taken. For the team, could they face that question again in the next few years?

A little over three years ago, the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth-overall pick. In so doing, they also snubbed Ramsey; the cornerback expected to become a Cowboy and wound up going with the fifth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Where you stand on this issue likely has a lot to do with how you value running backs. Some argued in 2016, and still do, that no RB is worth that high of a pick or paying top dollar for in future years. You've seen plenty of those opinions this offseason as talk of a long-term contract extension for Elliott has heated up.

Those same folks would have loved for Dallas to take Jalen Ramsey, who instantly became one of the NFL's top corners. And in 2021, with both players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, they would probably rather see the Cowboys let Elliott walk away and use that money to add an elite player at a position like cornerback.

We mention Ramsey here because of his very public feud with Jacksonville over his contract. The team reportedly informed him they would wait until next year to do a long-term extension, and Ramsey made it known through social media that he was going to drive the price up. Given his known issues with Jaguars' VP Tom Coughlin, it could lead to a parting of ways.

If  Jalen Ramsey hit the open market, and still want to be a Cowboy, could the CB end up in Dallas after all?

Ezekiel Elliott Already Has Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Let's hypothesize that both Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey have to play 2020 on their fifth-year options. Now the Cowboys are having to decide if they want give Zeke a long-term deal, the franchise tag, or just let him go.

How does the prospect of potentially signing Ramsey, or some other elite talent at another position, sway Dallas' thinking? Could they decide that the best bang for their buck is to spend roughly $15 million per year at RB or at CB, OT, or somewhere else?

The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl corner in Byron Jones but there's still a lot of uncertainty at the other starting position. Neither Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis have been consistent enough and both will have expiring contracts in 2021.

Ezekiel Elliott will turn 26 that year. He will have five seasons of workhorse mileage. And this is the same Cowboys team that decided to let DeMarco Murray walk away a few years ago.

Of course, Elliott trumps Murray in almost every way. He's been elite every season so far, not just one, and has been far more durable. Assuming personal conduct issues don't remain a problem, Zeke will be much harder to let go of than DeMarco was.

However, the salary cap forces teams to think about the entire roster when making personnel decisions. Even if you can justify paying Elliott huge money, that means less for someone else. And even if it makes sense for a year or two, what about when Zeke is creeping closer to 30 years old?

Jalen Ramsey

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey

Again, I mentioned Ramsey here because of the intrigue with his contract situation in Jacksonville and connection to Dallas from the 2016 draft. It would be quite ironic if the Cowboys, five years later, were again having to decide between the same two players.

But Jalen exemplifies a greater issue that Dallas faces in the coming years. Does it make sense to tie up so much money at running back and weaken yourself at other positions?

While RBs as special as Ezekiel Elliott don't grow on trees, it's still one of the easiest positions to fill. Assuming the Cowboys still have one of the NFL's top offensive lines in a few years, they will be tempted to try and get solid rushing production with a much cheaper ball carrier.

When Dallas let DeMarco Murray go and then drafted Ezekiel Elliott a year later, some thought it could be the start of a new trend in roster management. Draft a RB high, get 4-5 years out of him, and then let somebody else pay him the big money. Rinse and repeat.

But then Zeke came along and has been the stuff of legends. If he has a long-term career in Dallas, he will be right there with Emmitt and Dorsett in the top-three of all time Cowboys running backs.

Elliott isn't just highly productive but brings personality and excitement. Guys like that are hard to let go of; they are as valuable for marketing as they are on the field.

That said, a lot can change in the next year or two. More issues with the league office, or a major injury, could have a dramatic effect on how we see Elliott's long-term value. It may make the decision much easier.

But assuming Zeke remains as valuable as ever, the Dallas Cowboys could be facing another major quandary between the running back and other elite players like Jalen Ramsey. What most helps the team win, and what has the most value over multiple seasons?

Hopefully, Ezekiel Elliott keeps playing well enough to keep the debate going.



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Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch

Jess Haynie

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Mitch Hyatt

Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?

Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.

While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.

For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.

Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.

“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”

Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.

The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.

If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.

Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.

Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.

If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.



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Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Melina Vastola / USA TODAY Sports

Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.

A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.

In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.

Michael Jackson

CB Michael Jackson

When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.

While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.

After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.

In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.

Tell me what you think about "Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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