(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – It’s not like the offensive line was in a slump or anything. Three players made the Pro Bowl once again, with right tackle La’el Collins having a solid first year at his new position, playing through injuries to not miss a single offensive snap.
Overall, it was still a good year for the O-line, but it wasn’t as dominant as we’ve seen before.
Maybe having Ezekiel Elliott for a full season will help all around. Maybe the health of Tyron Smith could be a factor as well in turning this season around for the O-line.
Either way, this question seems to be crucial in the Cowboys having ultimate success in 2018:
11 – Can the offensive line return to form?
Bryan Broaddus: Health is going to be the key here. The group is better equipped to handle a one or two game loss at tackle than they were last season. Veteran Cam Fleming was brought in from the New England Patriots to handle the swing tackle job so he should be ready. Rookie Connor Williams is new to the group and will be the starter at left guard unless he proves he cannot handle the job but all indications are that he should be a great fit. Travis Frederick and Zack Martin have been rock solid and that shouldn’t change. Where the line has made its biggest improvement is with La’el Collins at tackle. Collins came into the 2017 as a question mark but each week he improved and by season’s end, he was in my opinion playing the best of the starters. New offensive line coach Paul Alexander called this his “dream job” - - fans are hoping that he’s right and those nightmares from last season are long gone.
Mickey Spagnola: Absolutely! That is, as long as five-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith remains healthy, and doesn’t miss essentially four full games and parts of a fifth. Oh, also, as long as Ezekiel Elliott isn’t suspended six games. This line didn’t struggle over the first eight games of the season when the Cowboys were averaging right at 28 points a game. Also, sure thought La’el Collins began to come around the second half of the season at right tackle. Why he hadn’t played tackle since 2014 – his last year at LSU. And while rookie Connor Williams is being given every chance to win the starting left guard job, it’s not as if last year’s starter Jonathan Cooper was a stalwart there. So, if Williams is at least decent, and the other four guys play to form, along with possessing that dynamic threat at running back, this question will not be asked again this time next year.
Nick Eatman: A few questions back, I said Paul Alexander would be the most impactful new assistant because I think his NFL experience will take this group to a higher level. So yes, indeed the offensive line will return to form. It all starts with Tyron Smith and I think he will play in all 16 games. If that happens, the line will be as good as it has ever been. Let’s see how Connor Williams develops at left guard but there are other options if that doesn’t work out.
Rob Phillips: Yes. They’re in better shape on paper than last year based on the roster moves they’ve made. To me, it’s easily the best part of the offseason for the front office. Connor Williams is one-third of the solution. I think he’s got a real chance to be productive right away at left guard, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s playing between two Pro Bowlers. Another key here is free-agent signing Cameron Fleming, if indeed he’s the swing tackle. The Cowboys have to feel better about their depth in case Tyron Smith ever misses snaps this season. Key No. 3: They absolutely still need Smith to stay healthy. If all three happen, I think this can be a playoff team because everything they do well starts with what they do up front.