IRVING, Texas – Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan didn't want to rush Brian Waters into the lineup.
Now, after three weeks to settle into the Cowboys' offense after a year off from football, the veteran guard and his coaches feel like he's ready to start for the first time this year after rotating with Mackenzy Bernadeau the first three games.
"We think so," Callahan said. "We'll see how it goes (Friday). We'll adjust it accordingly. We've got a lot of confidence in both he and Mackenzy. We'll see how it plays out, but I think there's been good communication along the lines of where he's at from a strength and conditioning standpoint, also in terms of where his stamina is out. We'll watch that carefully."
Callahan said he wouldn't have given Waters more than he was physically capable of handling, but he can tell the quality of play the veteran still brings to the game. The 36-year-old will continue to be monitored, but it sounds like the coaches are preparing him for a more permanent role.
That would mean Bernadeau's role could shift around.
"I have a lot of respect for Bernadeau, in terms of what he can do," Callahan said. "Of course, if he has to step in and play and start, he's very capable. He's a starter anywhere in this league. We're utilizing him at a lot of different spots. He could be in a position to help backup at center just like he did a year ago when we lost a few guys, and of course he could play the left side as well if he needed to." [embedded_ad]
Not every player can take more than a year off in the NFL and return and play at a high level, but if anyone's seen it work on the line, it's Callahan. He believes Waters, a former six-time Pro Bowler, is ready to do the same.
"Steve Wisniewski did it in Oakland, and when he came back, he was in great shape," Callahan said. "Those guys know how to take care of their bodies. They're Pro Bowlers for a reason. They know what their limitations are, they know that their body needs, they know how to train, they know how to prepare. They wouldn't get to the level that they're at as a player if they don't have an understanding and awareness of all those other factors."
He expected Waters' progression to be gradual as the season began, and Bernadeau seemed to pick his play up from last year to allow the veteran guard to ease his way in. Callahan compared Waters' situation to a lineman entering training camp.
"For the veteran lineman playing that first preseason game of 10 to 12 snaps or 14 snaps and then playing a quarter or playing a half, we believe that progression has helped him," Callahan said. "We just didn't want to throw him out there and force him into a situation that he wasn't physically ready for. Now, is he mentally tough enough to do that? Sure, he could do that. But I think in all fairness to him and our team, we want him to be in the best possible condition so he can play at the highest level."