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Roster Rundown: Free Bounced Back Strong In 2013
Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players’ impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2014 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features tackle Doug Free.
Name: Doug Free
Height/Weight: 6-6 / 325
Experience: 7 seasons
College: Northern Illinois
Key stat: Free seemed to revitalize his career with a much more productive 2013 season, starting all 16 games at right tackle after agreeing to take a pay cut following a down year.
Contract Status: Signed through 2014
2013 Impact: If there was a player on this Cowboys roster that needed to have a bounce-back season, it was Doug Free. What started out as a promising career and a large extension, led to some awful play by his standards in 2011 and 2012. To Free’s credit, the front office asked for a salary reduction and he accepted it, then begin to work on getting his game back in shape. Where Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack went to work with Free was on his technique and how to correct the flaws in his hand placement and foot work. What was also important in the transformation was getting Free to buy into the changes but by his own admission, it was something that had to be done. When you study Free’s game, it’s never going to be about power but leverage, angles and positioning. When Free is bad, it is because his hands are bad. What Callahan and Pollack worked with him on daily is getting his hands inside and not on the outside of the defenders pads. When rushers got to Free’s chest, this is where he had the most trouble and without the lower body power to sit down, he became a compressed player and rushers took advantage of that. Another area that these coaches had to work on, was his confidence. There were two seasons where Free had none, where during his best seasons, he was full of it. There were days while we were in Oxnard, where he took reps against DeMarcus Ware in one-on-one pass rush and he more than held his own and that put him on the right path. Free was able to carry confidence along with this better technique into the season and right out of the blocks, he was able to string some quality starts together against the Giants, Chiefs and Rams, who had some pressure players. Each week, Free was able to build on that and while working with Mackenzy Bernadeau and Brian Waters on that right side, whether it was run or pass, there were opportunities for productive plays.
Where He Fits: Doug Free is in the last season of his current contract and there is some thought that with another solid season there might be some reason to extend him a year or two. Free will be the starter at right tackle and whereas last season he was in a competition for his job with Jeremy Parnell, that will not be the case in 2014 because physically and mentally he is back to the levels that we saw from him before he received that extension.
Rowan Kavner: Free’s decision to stay in Dallas was a tremendous benefit to the Cowboys, as the right tackle looked like a completely different player in 2013 than the year prior, when he ended the season in a rotation with Jermey Parnell. After committing 15 penalties in 2012, two of which were declined, he cut his penalty total for the season to just eight in 2013. He was durable and accountable and helped stabilize the right side of the line. By the end of the year, the personnel was the same on the right side of the line in 2013 as it was in 2012, but the production of Free and Mackenzy Bernadeau improved dramatically. Whether it was health, shape or confidence, Free upped his value considerably in 2013 after a down year.