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Having Returned Home, Bell Now Learning The Cowboys OL System
Consider the odds. There are 15 offensive linemen going to training camp with the Cowboys this year and only eight, maybe nine will likely be on the final 53-man roster. Of that group, four are for sure locks, which means there will be 11 players battling for the other four or five positions once the team begins practicing in Oxnard, Calif.
It’s a good problem to have if you’re the Cowboys – competition breeds excellence, so the saying goes – but the crowded field doesn’t exactly make it a picnic for those players involved.
For Byron Bell, though, this is really nothing new.
“I’ve done this before, my rookie year, starting in Carolina,” Bell said. “I’ve done it in Tennessee, coming in and competing for a job and doing the same thing.”
Signed to a one-year deal by the Cowboys on March 24, Bell joined the team as a seven-year veteran. He was an undrafted free agent out of the University of New Mexico in 2011 and spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Panthers, where he started 56 of his 62 games played. His work came primarily at right tackle, although he did line up on the left side during the 2014 campaign.
That was followed by a move to the Titans, and in the 2015 season he really began to show his versatility, making seven starts at left guard, eight at right tackle and one at left tackle. But the momentum was lost when he unfortunately suffered a dislocated ankle during the next year’s OTAs, the injury causing him to miss the entire 2016 schedule.
Now here is, returning to Texas to play for the team he grew up loving. Bell is originally from nearby Greenville, where he was an all-state offensive tackle as a senior, started at center on the basketball team and competed in the shot put.
“I’m back home. This is where I’m from, the East Texas area,” said Bell. “It’s just good to be around my family. I get to see my mom. I’m happy to be here and I’m excited. I grew up a Cowboys fan, so I just want to do whatever I’ve got to do to make this team.”
Just as he’s done before, that may mean a little bit of everything.
With La’el Collins the presumed starter at right tackle, joining the All-Pro threesome of left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin, that leaves just one important starting role to fill, left guard, on what is considered the top offensive line in the NFL.
“We’ve got three of the best guys at their respected position,” Bell said. “You’ve got the best left tackle, the best right guard and the best center in all of football. Just following those guys, I think that will help my game. Even though I’ve played seven years, I think I can get better.”
He will likely need to. After the year off, Bell battled weight issues during the offseason workouts, and with the move to Dallas he is also learning a new system. Those two obstacles have perhaps put him behind players such as Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green for the starting left guard position.
“It’s a whole new system for him,” said offensive line coach Frank Pollack. “He hasn’t really been in our scheme, so a lot of it is new to him. He’s learning the way we do our technique here.”
“It’s different everywhere I’ve been, but it’s unique here how they do things,” said Bell. “It’s a beautiful thing how they run the offensive line room. By just implementing the things I’ve learned throughout the years and then the things Coach Pollack and Coach [Marc] Colombo are teaching, it’s going to help my career further. I think these techniques will help me to up my game.”
Contrary to what many people think, what goes on in the trenches after any snap of the football isn’t just 300-pound men haphazardly hitting each other. There are assignments and methods that vary depending on the type of play called or the alignment of the defense. And each team has their own way of doing things.
“Some of it’s just learning the language,” said Pollack. “I tell guys, you speak Italian; we speak French. We kind of know that we want to order a piece of pizza, we know what it looks like, but this is how we talk and order it.”
“Every team is going to coach it different,” Bell said, “but power is power, zone is zone. Just go out there and run it. I’ve just got to come in and learn the techniques that Coach Pollack and Coach Colombo are teaching, and I think I’ll be fine.”
With Pollack agreeing that the newcomer is “doing good,” the Cowboys will also be looking for depth along the offensive line and Bell, who is a massive 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, is certainly in the hunt for one of those positions as well. With experience at both tackle positions and guard, he brings some flexibility, which is always valuable when constructing a roster.
But being a reserve is not his ultimate goal. Just like those other 15 linemen who will soon head to training camp, Bell wants to be in the starting lineup.
“I’m here to work,” he said, “and I’ll just let my play do the talking. They’re going to play the best five. I’ve just got to do my best to be one of those five.” Read