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20 Questions: Does Martin Make This O-Line Dominant?
When the Cowboys report to training camp on July 22 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions will still need to be answered.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rowan Kavner, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp. The questions will vary in importance, with the most pressing topics getting brought up in the days closest to camp.
Today, the staff sizes up the offensive line now that Zack Martin has been added to the mix.
16) Does Zack Martin now make this a dominating offensive line?
Rowan Kavner – I’m going to stop short of dominant, mostly because it takes a little while for NFL players to make their mark. Could it be dominant soon? Absolutely. But the truly elite lines can generate push consistently and boast a running attack other defenses fear. The Cowboys aren’t quite there yet, even with all the improvements and the addition of Martin, who should help. We’re not far removed from the line being a weak point of the team, and even last year there were some breakdowns. Tyron Smith likely has many great years ahead of him but only one year as a stalwart in the league. I think with time this line can become dominant, but I’m not willing to call it that in 2014. A lot of it may depend on the play-calling helping out. How many dominant offensive lines play on a team in the bottom half of the league in rushing, as it was last year? The line will be a strength of the Cowboys, but a team has to be able to trust its running game before it can boast a “dominant” offensive line, and the Cowboys haven’t recently.
David Helman: He had better, given the way we have hyped up this line and the picks the Cowboys have spent to improve it. I think Martin is a definite improvement over either Mackenzy Bernadeau or Ronald Leary, considering he was widely considered the best guard in this past draft, and I do think the offensive line is going to continue its improvement from the tail end of last year. That said, I worry that the expectation is going to outweigh the reality. It’s not like Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick were All-Pros in their rookie seasons, so I think it’s important to remember Martin is still a rookie – though the quality of the guys around him should help. At the end of the day, I think he improves the line, and I think it will continue to improve as these guys continue to work together. But I’m not optimistic enough to think this line is going to pave the way for the league’s best rushing offense or the league’s lowest sack total. It’s not that simple.
Nick Eatman: To me, that’s a question the War Room had to answer before the pick. It’s nothing you need to figure out right now. After all of the evaluations from the scouts and coaches, that’s something that gets asked back in late April and in May. If we take this Notre Dame lineman, are we that much better now up front? I would imagine the common answer was yes. Now, are they dominating? That remains to be seen. Because even last year we saw the line get dominated in the trenches. That Redskins game – the line got dominated on two straight running plays, which nearly cost them the game – and would’ve been the same, and maybe some of the coaching jobs as well. This line was better in 2013 but not dominant when it was time to run the ball. So if Martin can help them that much, coupled with Frederick’s expected improvement, then I would think the line can be in the “dominating” category. We haven’t seen it yet but if Martin is anywhere close to expected, then it should be a position of strength now.
Bryan Broaddus: I would not use the word dominant here, but better for sure. By putting Martin at right guard it now means that Mackenzy Bernadeau or Ronald Leary will be in a battle for the starting spot on that left side and the winner of that spot will have earned it through their good play and that is a positive. A situation to keep an eye on during training camp is the play of Doug Free. As we opened camp in 2013, there were plenty of questions about what type of player we would see in Free but he was able to answer all of his critics with some solid, steady play at right tackle. Free is once again going to have to be at his best and cannot revert back to that type of play we observed in the previous two seasons where he was so technique poor. For this offensive line to elevate to that next level, he is going to have to be on his game.