It was clear that the Cowboys front office went into free agency with the plan of trying to address several trouble spots on both sides of the ball, so it wasn't surprising when right out of the gate a pair of guards were signed. One of those guards was Nate Livings of the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the last two seasons for the Bengals, Livings started 32 games at left guard. When I studied him on tape, I made sure that I watched him play against some top-flight talent to see how good his game really was. In 2011, Livings was matched up against players like Justin Smith, Antonio Smith, Haloti Ngata and Calais Campbell, so this was a great opportunity to see if he was productive or if there were struggles.
Livings was the starter at left guard for the Bengals, which is most likely the position that he will be playing with the Cowboys.
In the 49ers game, the first thing you noticed was his ability to play with a solid base against Justin Smith, because Smith had a hard time throwing Livings off his block. In the Ravens game, Ngata had the same problem because. When Livings was able to get his hands inside, he was able to control the block.
There is nothing smooth or pretty about his game, but you do see him fight to finish blocks. He is a stalemate blocker in the running game. He fights to make the cut-off blocks and will work to get to the second level. If he did have some struggles in the running game, it was when he was asked to pull. He wasn't the quickest when he did it, but he also had a couple plays where he was a "one shot" blocker. I thought he needed to do a better job, once he located the target, to hit and try to secure his man.
As a pass protector, I thought he could have played with more punch. He did more grabbing than punching, but to his credit when he did grab his man he was OK. He was able to adjust to the twist stunt, but had some trouble with the inside power move. He needs to be more forceful when power stepping inside to protect that gap. He has to watch if he gets over-extended, and plays over the tops of his feet. That's when he has some balance issues. Livings was aware enough to help a teammate when uncovered. He will work to the inside to help on the nose or slide outside to work on the end. He showed some recovery in the Ravens game when beaten on the swim move. I was surprised how well he was able to pass protect on both Justin Smith and Campbell, who I feel are two of the better pressure players in the league. He dad a little trouble with the quickness of Justin Smith, and that will be something to keep an eye on.
There is not a lot of beauty to Livings' game, but to his credit he played well against some talented defensive players. Livings is not going to make you forget Larry Allen, but with what the Cowboys went through at left guard last season he should more of a stable player at the position.