IRVING, Texas – If the phrase "perception is reality" holds true to form, the Cowboys are certainly hoping for that in regards to their new-look offensive line.
In recent years, the perception of the offensive line hasn't been that good. In reality, they weren't, especially in the running game.
Now, with the addition of veteran Brian Waters, who practiced for the first time Wednesday, teamed with a first-round pick at center and an emerging young guard in Ron Leary, the perception of the entire offensive line is one that is vastly improved.
The Cowboys can only hope that becomes a reality.
Vice president Stephen Jones, who is the Cowboys' director of player personnel, said he is hopeful the offensive line will go from one of the team's weaknesses, to possibly a strength with the added experience and depth.
"Getting Waters obviously takes it from being a big, big question mark, but from not only being a question mark on the front end, but now we've got good depth," Jones said. "You take a starter in (Mackenzy) Bernadeau and he may ultimately be a backup here. I'm sure he's not going to give the job away. He's been competing well. You know what we think about (Phil) Costa and (Jermey) Parnell gives you a solid eight there. We're pleased."
And that's not something the Cowboys have been able to say about the line in the last few years – even the last few weeks. There have been several questions, ones that still haven't been fully answered.
While Travis Frederick looks the part and has played well in the preseason, Sunday night will be his NFL debut. The same goes for Leary, who has been battling to get back from a knee scope he had in mid-August. Leary practiced in full Wednesday and said he's "definitely" playing Sunday against the Giants. However, it'll also be his NFL debut.
Tyron Smith has been solid at left tackle and Doug Free has played well on the right side this preseason. But he certainly benefitted from Anthony Spencer's camp-long knee injury that often had him battling the likes of Kyle Wilber and George Selvie, instead of a 2012 Pro Bowler who had 11 sacks.
So the question marks remain along the line. And they likely won't go away with one game – regardless if Waters plays or not. From the sound of things, the 11-year veteran is not expected to suit up against the Giants. While he practiced some early with the second-team offense, the bulk of his afternoon was spent with trainers working on his conditioning.
It appears the goal with Waters is to have him ready for Week 2, which just so happens to be in Kansas City, a place he spent the first 10 seasons of his career, earning five Pro Bowls. Waters picked up a sixth Pro Bowl trip in 2011 when he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. Similar to this situation, Waters joined New England on Sept. 3, 2011, eight days before the opener in Miami, where he played 85 percent of the offensive snaps. Waters was able to get five practices in before that first game, compared to just three this week. So getting him ready for the Chiefs makes more sense, although the savvy veteran in Waters wouldn't let him look that far ahead.
"I'm just going to think about the Giants right now, take it one game at a time," Waters said. "Obviously, I have a great amount of affection for the Kansas City program and organization, but right now our focus is on the Giants."
Despite his experience, Waters said he can learn a lot from Frederick, who was eight years old when Waters completed his first training camp.
"I have a lot of experience, a lot of game-time experience," Waters said. "If those guys need me, in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer some insight on different ways to do things and different players that I've played against. But this center is young and smart. He's not going to need much help from me. I'm probably going to need more help from him than he's going to need from me."
While Frederick seemed to appreciate the compliment, it sounded like he's prepared to do the bulk of the learning in this new-formed relationship.
"I don't think I'm teaching him anything. Really all I'm doing is helping facilitate the switching of terminology and things like that, and even at that, it's not a whole lot," Frederick said. "He obviously knows what he's doing. He's got the playbook and will have probably by (Thursday), have it all done. The things you learn from playing in the NFL for 10 years, I have no idea. But those are the things that I can learn from him, and I think those are harder to learn and they take more time and they take somebody that's been through it all to help you if you want to get it faster than they got it or faster than it takes you 10 years down the road. I think the things that he's teaching me are more important."
Whether Frederick is helping Waters learn the system, or Waters is helping Frederick learn the ropes of being an NFL lineman, they're going to lean on each other.
More importantly, they're likely going to give this offensive line a possible edge that we haven't seen around here in a while.
Now that would be quite a reality check.