This is exactly what the doctor ordered. All-Pro Center Travis Frederick, who battled a shoulder injury and a scary battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome which forced him to miss all of 2018, will reportedly be ready for the start of the 2019 season.
Frederick went from being a head-scratching pick by most in the 2013 draft to the best player in the league at his position. He's been a pro bowler every year he's been on the field (2014-2017), a first-team all-pro (2014, 2016) and a second-team all-pro (2015). A quarterbacks worst fear is pressure from the middle, and with Frederick on track for 2019, Dak Prescott can sleep a little easier.
While center is at the very bottom of positions people value, it's actually one of the most important. It's the "quarterback" of your offensive line, just like a middle linebacker on defense. Frederick makes the initial protection calls based upon the positioning of defensive linemen and linebackers. He's the eyes of the unit, and with fellow all-pro line mates Tyron Smith and Zack Martin with him, the Cowboys offensive line can get back to being the best in the NFL.
Even though he didn't see any field action in 2018, Frederick didn't let that stop him from advancing his game from a mental perspective.
“I see the game a little bit differently than I did before. A lot of times during the season you are so focused on your technique and focused on what it takes physically to get your job done, you don’t get a great chance to advance mentally. And a lot of times you do that during the offseason, you do your best to do that. But to get to see real live looks all the time and see the way defenses are disguising things and what kind of coverages they’re moving to using more normally, I think was really beneficial to me. And I’ve seen the benefits of that already in OTAs,” Frederick said.
The impact of Frederick effects several areas. First, as mentioned earlier, it keeps pressure from getting to Dak Prescott up the middle, which quarterbacks hate. Knocking a quarterback off his spot and forcing him outside the pocket sets up defensive ends to have a sack party at will. Your offense will not be able to gain any kind of rhythm in the passing game, putting most of the load on your running back. Being one-dimensional will get you beat every Sunday.
Next, having strength on the interior of your offensive line is vital in short yardage. When running backs are forced to bounce runs to the outside it sets them up to get creamed by linebackers, defensive ends, and corners. Ideally, the way you want to attack is up to the middle between the tackles with a short down and distance to go. So Frederick being dominate at center, and with help from all-pro Zack Martin and Connor Williams at the guard positions, Ezekiel Elliott can keep the chains moving on a regular basis.
Lastly, it disrupts the gameplan of both sides of the ball for the opposing team. Having a powerful offensive line that can keep producing first downs allows you to methodically wear down a defense. The longer they are on the field the more frustrated they'll become, and then the fatigue factor kicks in, both mentally and physically. Simultaneously, you keep the offense of your opponent on the sidelines. This eliminates any rhythm that could have been gained, virtually making them sitting ducks for your own defense. Frederick's value goes way beyond his own individual dominance.
Training camp will be the final test to see if Frederick is back to being the anchor of the offensive line. Film study and working out is one thing, but strapping on the pads is another. If he can do that, and that's still an if, at this point, the possibilities for the new look Cowboys offense increase tremendously.
Dallas has added more firepower to the offense with the trade for Amari Cooper in 2018, the return of Jason Witten, drafting Tony Pollard, and the signing of Randall Cobb. While those moves may get the headlines, having your all-pro center back, who's essentially the quarterbacks best friend, can't be valued enough. Football is a chemistry game more than any other, well class is presumably back in session, Professor Travis Frederick is at your service. Interior defensive linemen should be afraid, very afraid.
Tony Pollard, Supporting Cast or a Co-lead with Ezekiel Elliott?
Since the Dallas Cowboys drafted Running Back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft he's been the star of the show. Any of their other offensive weapons have been nothing more than supporting cast the past three years, but rookie RB/WR Tony Pollard could prove to be more than just supporting cast and become more of a co-lead in Zeke's show.
Suggesting Tony Pollard has a chance to be more than just supporting cast with Ezekiel Elliott is a lot to put on a rookies shoulders, but that's the kind of hype he's receiving already. He hasn't even put on the pads yet with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's already receiving Alvin Kamara type comparisons due to the versatility he's expected to bring with him to the NFL.
Living up to those Alvin Kamara comparisons might be even more difficult than becoming anything more than just an extra behind Zeke anytime soon, but it's doable. After all, Kamara immediately stepped in as a rookie and became a costar with Mark Ingram in New Orleans. It's certainly feasible to think Pollard can do the same.
There's of course only one problem with this way of thinking. Mark Ingram is no Ezekiel Elliott. And, no RB on the depth chart behind Zeke the last three years has been good enough to cut into #21's heavy workload. Is the hype surrounding Tony Pollard justified? Is he talented enough to cut into Zeke's playing time?
Those are some really big questions we don't have an answer to as of yet. Training camp could help determine the type of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and beyond, but even that can be thrown out the window once games start to matter in the regular season.
Personally, I think Tony Pollard will be part of a supporting cast behind Ezekiel Elliott this year. I just don't think he's ready to step in and costar with Zeke just yet. I think he will be more of a comedic relief that will be used from time to time to keep things interesting. That's not necessarily a bad thing though considering his versatility to contribute in the running or passing game.
In time though, Pollard could prove worthy of an increase in playing time and become more of a co-lead with No. 21. It may very well be in his rookie season, but he's really going to have to prove himself and that will need to start this week when the Dallas Cowboys kick off their training camp in Oxnard, California.
What do you think? Is Tony Pollard supporting cast or a co-lead with Zeke?
Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Extremely Formidable
Randy Gregory showed flashes last season of the potential he has as a pass rusher. Even though he only managed one start he did see action in 14 games. Had registered 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 7 tackles for loss and 15 hits on the quarterback. That's very good production with limited opportunities. Now, this sets up the Dallas Cowboys on the edge getting to the quarterback, and here's how.
The Cowboys acquired Defensive End Robert Quinn via trade from the Dolphins back in March. He is set to start at right defensive end opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory, who lines up on the right side as well, can potentially make said side a huge problem for offenses on 2019.
Let's just take a typical season from Quinn which is between 8-9 sacks. If Gregory can give at minimum what he did last season, that's around 15 sacks just between the two of them alone. Now, as we all know, Lawrence can be penciled in for double-digit sacks routinely at this point. So given this information that's a potential 25-30 sacks just from these three players. This is without including guys such as Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and rookies Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (assuming they make the final roster).
Why is Gregory's potential impact so important? For me, it's simply where he lines up at defensive end, on the right side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, which means when they drop back to pass they face left side defensive ends, with their backs to defensive ends coming off the right side. If you can consistently pressure a quarterback from his blindside the opportunities for sacks and fumbles increase. Regardless of how skilled a quarterback is you can't avoid what you can't see.
Of course, this all depends on what the NFL does regarding the reinstatement of Gregory. He was suspended indefinitely in February for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, a situation he is all too familiar with. My guess is Gregory and the Cowboys will ask for a conditional reinstatement like he was given by the NFL in 2018. What this would do is allow Gregory to participate in meetings and condition work until he's a full participant. He is set to apply for that reinstatement within the next few days.
The only thing Randy Gregory can do now is play the waiting game. The league is currently considering the possibility of softening their stance on marijuana use. If they are serious about it I can see Gregory getting reinstated even if it's on a conditional basis. If this is granted the Cowboys will be getting big-time pressure off the edge with Lawrence, Quinn, and Gregory in 2019.
CB Jourdan Lewis Getting Ready For Bounce-Back 2019 Season
For a third round pick, cornerback Jourdan Lewis sure did come to Dallas with his fair share of hype.
In fact, much of Cowboys Nation was more excited about Lewis joining the Cowboys than they were about either of the team's first two selections in that same draft, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie. But while Awuzie has soared to starting cornerback levels with Dallas during his first two seasons, Jourdan Lewis has been forced to take a back seat.
After a promising rookie season, Jourdan Lewis didn't get much playing time at cornerback in 2018. Anthony Brown took over as the starting slot corner, while Byron Jones and Awuzie manned the outside. This left Lewis as the odd man out, despite what many consider to be impressive cover skills.
Lewis is not allowing this down season to eat away at him too much, though. While speaking with the media last week at SportsCon in Dallas, Lewis gave his thoughts on how his year spent behind the other young Cowboys corners is only fueling him for the future.
"As a competitor it's always tough, especially as a rookie and you're playing all of the time. It's definitely when you take a step back it humbles you. Sometimes you gotta understand that you have to wait your turn and work on your craft. Understand that you always have to stay a professional no matter your situation. And that's what I learned last year."
Considered undersized by the standards typically used by Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard, some have argued that Lewis was never given a fair shot to earn playing time once Richard took over in 2018. Whether or not this is true can't ever be said for sure, and the level of play Anthony Brown exhibited from the slot in 2018 didn't leave much room for substitutions either.
Still, Jourdan Lewis says he appreciates that time he spent on the bench, and he hopes that it will only drive him towards bigger and better things down the road.
"I appreciate the time that I sat last year honestly...Because it made me a better player, maybe a better person honestly."
The Cowboys cornerback situation didn't get any less crowded this offseason. Not only is Dallas bringing back all three of the aforementioned starters from a year ago, but they also drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
That cornerback room is full of talent. Not only does this create a luxury for the Cowboys at one of the league's most important positions, but it also breeds immense competition between the corners come training camp.
Which, if you didn't know, begins on July 26th.
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