IRVING, Texas -Continuity being a significant factor for offensive line play, the Cowboys would love to set their starting front five at the beginning of training camp, to give the guys time to jell. There's a problem, though.
Former Carolina Panther Mackenzy Bernadeau, whom the Cowboys signed to a four-year, $11 million deal in March, could miss a sizeable portion of camp and the preseason while still recovering from offseason hip surgery. While another free agent guard, Nate Livings, seems secure with a top job on the left side, it's likely Bernadeau will head to Oxnard, Calif. on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, team Vice President Stephen Jones has said.
When he comes back, he'll still need a while to acclimate himself to football shape. In the meantime, two young guards will be making progress themselves. As significant as the Cowboys' investment in Bernadeau was, the team spent a fourth-round pick on David Arkin in 2011, and guaranteed over half of the base salary of Ronald Leary, this year's prized undrafted rookie.
A battle is looming for the right guard spot, and at this point it's hard to decipher a pecking order even though Bernadeau appeared to be the club's first choice at the beginning of the offseason.
"I'm here for a reason," Bernadeau said. "I think it's to contribute and play to the best of my ability and help the team whichever way I can. ... I'm more than willing to play whatever there is. I'm just excited to help contribute and get on the field, hopefully sooner than later."
Though the blocking schemes of new offensive line coach Bill Callahan are new to all three of the guards in the discussion, and Bernadeau is even behind the younger guys because he's been out of practice, his experience at the NFL level may still be a significant advantage.
"I would think it is," Garrett said. "He's been around a couple systems in Carolina. He's a smart guy, but having said that, he's missed some time that's valuable to him. ... We just have to see where he fits in there."
While Bernadeau was out during Organized Team Activities, Arkin took the majority of reps with the first-team offense, a golden opportunity for the 24-year-old who essentially had a redshirt rookie year. Arkin had a shot at a starting job during training camp last year, but quickly gave way to fellow draftee Bill Nagy, who was more NFL-ready after playing major college football at Wisconsin.
After starting for four season at Division-II Missouri State, Arkin was made inactive for all 16 games in 2011. To catch up to the pro competition last year, he lifted weights twice as many days per week as most of his teammates, and continued that effort into the offseason program.
"I feel like I was able to get in the weight room with Mike Woicik and really work a lot and get stronger," Arkin said. "I felt like that was a little bit of a problem for me, my anchor strength, and I feel like I've gotten a lot better with that."
A player the Cowboys had graded as a third-round talent during his time at Memphis, Leary went undrafted due to concerns over a knee injury he suffered in 2010. The Cowboys have no way to be sure of his long-term availability, but they like him so much in the short term that signing him was their top priority after the draft.
By the final week of on-field work this offseason, Leary, not Arkin, was working with the first unit during some drills.
"I'm getting in there a little bit," Leary said. "I haven't accomplished anything. Right now that's just practice reps. (Callahan) is just giving me a chance. I haven't accomplished anything until the season comes around and I'm in there. That's a long time from now, though."
That would appear to be a good thing for the Cowboys up front, considering how unsettled the right guard position is for now.
"Offensive linemen, for me personally, it's very difficult to make any decisions when you don't have pads on," Jones said. "At the end of the day, I want to wait and see these offensive linemen in pads."