IRVING, Texas – Mackenzy Bernadeau doesn't particularly like being described as a "starter again."
The veteran guard doesn't think that way. And so while he technically is returning to the starting lineup after being a backup for five straight games, Bernadeau said his mindset now with Brian Waters out is no different than before.
"I've always prepped since I've been here to be a starter," Bernadeau said on Wednesday. "Now you're just starting the game. I've done it before. I've done it this season. I've always prepped for being ready. This is no different."
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Cowboys had not placed Waters on injured reserve with a triceps injury. There has been talk around Valley Ranch that Waters might try to wait out the injury and avoid surgery, with a hope he could return later in the year.
Regardless of that scenario, Bernadeau knows he'll be in the starting lineup for this game against the Vikings. And even though Waters' injury provides an opportunity for himself, Bernadeau said the Cowboys will miss the veteran across the entire offensive line.
"He's a huge help to the offensive line – his demeanor, his mentality, his approach in practice, his way of studying film – he's taught us all a lot," Bernadeau said of Waters. "He was the backbone to the offensive line."
That being said, how do you replace a backbone?
"It's tough to replace a backbone," Bernadeau said. "It's tough shoes to fill. I'm just excited to get back on the field and get ready to play. It's time for me to establish myself as an offensive starter."
Starting center Travis Frederick was eight years old when Waters first got into the NFL back in 1999. So obviously, Waters has been influential in helping the rookie this year – in a variety of ways.
"Just the persona that he has," Frederick said of Waters. "Everybody knows him as a real tough, or a mean player. Not that he's over the top or nasty or anything like that, or that the other players aren't like that. Just that he has a little way about him, and he's been doing it so long, that what I would miss would be just that little extra that he gives. And those little tidbits of information that he can give me."
But it's not like Bernadeau can't fill that void. He played four years with the Panthers from 2008-11 with a combined 20 starts. He signed with the Cowboys last year as a free agent to bolster the team's guard position, although offseason injuries hampered him early on in the offseason and then training camp. However, Bernadeau still started all 16 games last year for Dallas.
But once again, injuries plagued Bernadeau in the offseason and the Cowboys flirted with the idea of signing a veteran in camp. First it was Brandon Moore of the Jets, who initially agreed to sign but changed his mind. Waters' name was mentioned for about a month before he signed on Sept. 3, just five days before the start of the season.
"I'm not going to lie, at first, it's obviously frustrating to bring somebody in," Bernadeau said of the Waters signing. "But at the same time, I have respect for Waters. We all knew who he was. It was great to learn from him."
Bernadeau started the first three games, playing the entire game in Week 1 against the Giants with Waters inactive. But the next two games he rotated with Waters, who eventually took the job outright in Week 4 against the Rams. [embedded_ad]
The obstacle for Bernadeau now is getting acclimated again with his surrounding linemen.
"The biggest challenge is getting used to the guys you're playing next to," Bernadeau said. "I've been fortunate to play with Doug Free before. That's not really an adjustment. I'm used to the techniques. It's just used to playing with Free and Frederick and some of the game-time situations.
"You never want someone to go down. You never want someone to get hurt. But you're always ready. At the end of the day, your number is called and you've got to be prepped and ready to play."
As humbling as it might have been to be benched, Bernadeau said he is hoping to turn it into a positive experience.
"You never want to be replaced, but it's part of the business," Bernadeau said. "(Waters) is a great pro. I'm glad we had him. We all learned a lot from him. And he made us a lot better."
Exactly how much better? Well, come Sunday, Bernadeau gets another chance to show just that.