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Position Series: Younger Interior O-Line Pays Off
(Editor's Note: This is the eighth of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2014 season. Today we examine the interior offensive linemen.)
Pressing Matters: For the first time in a while, there really aren’t many. The Cowboys could try to continue to upgrade one of their guard spots, but their entire starting group on the line from last season will be back. That’s a group that helped pave the way for DeMarco Murray’s first 1,000 yard season and a 5.2-yard rushing average that put him in the top five of backs across the league. The Cowboys will have to decide if they want to bring back Brian Waters, who would have started the majority of the year had he not gotten injured. But Mackenzy Bernadeau might have done enough in Waters’ absence to make the Cowboys comfortable at that spot. They could always use depth on the inside, so they may want to bring in a guard who can push for a starting spot considering Bernadeau’s previous injury history and Ron Leary’s knee problems.
2013 Evaluation: The Cowboys couldn’t have possibly hoped for any more than they got out of rookie center Travis Frederick. He answered the countless naysayers who questioned the Cowboys’ decision of selecting him in the first round by becoming the first center in team history to start all 16 games. It’s one thing to start, but it’s another to help stabilize the line and actually play adequately and learn from early mistakes. He did all of that and was a major reason the Cowboys’ line completely turned their perception around from where it was the previous season. The additions of Frederick and Leary helped the interior reshape the production of the entire line. Then after Waters got hurt, Bernadeau stepped in seamlessly. The youth of Leary and Frederick should garner excitement for the future.
Need More From … : It’s difficult to call out anyone on the interior of the line, but the Cowboys could probably still get more from their guards. I don’t know that we’ve seen Leary fully healthy yet – nor do I know that his knees will ever be fully healthy, but his best may still be to come in the future and he could still work on limiting penalties. On the other side, it wasn’t long ago that Bernadeau was a backup. As great as the interior line looked for most of the year, there were occasional struggles and times they got hit back particularly near the goal line. They played well and their strong performances should be noted, but there were stretches where both spots could have done better.
Upgrades Needed: The only upgrades needed would be for depth purposes at guard. That’s assuming Phil Costa, a player many expected to start before the Cowboys drafted Frederick, is still a capable backup center. He didn’t make a start this season because of the healthy of the starting linemen, particularly Frederick. But the Cowboys don’t have a lot of options if Leary or Bernadeau get hurt, which is troubling considering the plethora of injuries Bernadeau’s fought through the majority of his career. Bringing Waters back is always an option, but a young guard to challenge both of the starters for playing time would be beneficial.
By The Numbers:
- Bernadeau started 11 games yet drew just one penalty. That’s two fewer than he had last year. Frederick only had three penalties in his first 16 starts of his career.
- DeMarco Murray finished with three more rushing touchdowns in 2013 than he had his previous two seasons combined. That had a lot to do with the push from the interior.
- Frederick became the first rookie in team history to start all 16 games at center.
Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys’ interior linemen:
Count me as one of those so-called experts that was beyond shocked at the selection when Jerry Jones traded back in the 2013 NFL Draft and selected Travis Frederick in the first round. In the days leading up to the draft, I thought center was a position of need, but I was more willing to address it in… (Read more here)