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Position Series: Left Guard Battle Is The Big Issue Inside
(Editor’s Note: This is the third of a 12-part series examining and analyzing the main position groups for the Cowboys as they prepare for training camp. Today’s piece focuses on the interior of the offensive line, the guards and centers.)
What’s the Deal?
It’s interesting to think back to all the uncertainty surrounding the interior of this offensive line last summer. Nate Livings was unavailable with injury, and Ronald Leary missed time with knee issues. Travis Frederick was a certain starter after he was drafted 31st overall, but nothing else seemed settled – the Cowboys even signed longtime veteran Brian Waters to offset their injury issues. After Waters tore his triceps, Mackenzy Bernadeau stepped in and raised his game. By the end of the year, the trio of Leary, Frederick and Bernadeau had proven itself more than adequate for an improving run game. If that wasn’t enough, the Cowboys drafted Zack Martin at No. 16 overall to bolster the position. Earlier this summer, the team also signed longtime Jaguars starter Uche Nwaneri to add even more depth.
Still Need to Find Out:
What is the starting guard combo going to be? Two weeks ahead of training camp, we have no idea. Zack Martin looks like a lock for the starting right guard spot, much like fellow first-rounder Frederick was at center last year. Leary was the starter on the left side last year, but he’ll have to fend off competition from Bernadeau and perhaps Nwaneri to keep the job this time around. Nwaneri has starting experience at both left guard and right guard, and Bernadeau can also serve as a backup for Frederick at center. The center spot is a no-brainer as long as Frederick is healthy, but the coaching staff will need to figure out the depth chart at guard during training camp.
Depth shouldn’t be an issue this year, assuming this unit can stay healthy. Frederick, Martin, Bernadeau and Leary are all locks, and you’ve got to like Nwaneri’s odds of making the roster with 91 career starts to his resume. That gives the team five interior linemen, and Bernadeau’s flexibility means they don’t need an extra center. Five might be enough, given team needs at other positions, but if they decide to carry a sixth, it’d probably be a young, developmental player like Ronald Patrick.
Ready to Breakout?
For all the criticism his selection drew on draft night in 2013, Frederick was an incredibly reliable rookie after some early struggles. He started all 16 games and played a pivotal role in the emergence of the offensive line. For his efforts, the Pro Football Writers of America named him to their All-Rookie team. With that kind of trajectory, there’s no shortage of expectation on the Wisconsin native. Frederick is entering his second season with at least some Pro Bowl speculation.
Battle to Watch:
While some might think the battle has now added a third player to the mix with the recent addition of veteran Uche Nwaneri, I don’t see it that way. Nwaneri might provide some depth but to me, it comes down to a battle between Bernadeau and Leary.
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