With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group for the home team in an eight-part series, continuing Thursday with the offensive line.
Big Issue: While the Cowboys believe that flipping Tyron Smith and Doug Free will stabilize the play of their tackles, a huge question mark remains on the interior of the front five. The team threw significant money at the problem, signing veterans Nate Livings of Cincinnati and Mackenzy Bernadeau of Carolina, but both players come with questions of consistency.
The team believes that Livings and Bernadeau will represent improvements over the 2011 guards because they are bigger than the likes of Kyle Kosier and Bill Nagy, and more athletic than Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery. However, Bernadeau missed every offseason workout following hip surgery, and it could take some time before his is able to work himself back to full strength and join the starting lineup.
At center, Phil Costa should be better after having gained the experience of 16 starts in 2011, but will that be good enough? He faces competition in the form of Nagy, the 2011 seventh-round pick who started at guard early as a rookie before breaking his leg.
On top of all that, and perhaps most importantly, the unit has a new position coach, Bill Callahan, who takes over from Hudson Houck. During camp, all the Cowboys' linemen will have a significant learning curve to get a handle on Callahan's scheme, which is considered fairly complex by comparison.
Scouting Department: As talented as Smith is and despite what he showed on the right side, I think there is going to be a huge adjustment for him initially at left tackle. There will be several things technique-wise that he is going to have to adjust to that are totally different from the right side: quickness in getting away from the line of scrimmage, his line-of-sight to the pass-rusher and punching with his left hand instead of his right to get position on his man. The one real advantage Smith will have is the ability to go against DeMarcus Ware in practice every day. Ware has the ability to break down tackles like no other in this league. The great rushers can do that, they are not one-trick ponies. I believe there are going to be some times in camp when we do see Smith break down technique-wise, just trying to get comfortable on the left side.
The one thing that really impressed me about Smith last season was his ability to learn and adjust as the season wore on. In the second matchup, guys like Jason Babin with the Eagles didn't have the success that they had against him the first time around. Smith will work hard on his technique to get it right, but don't be surprised if there are a couple of bumps along the way. This is not a matter of just going from one side to the other.
– Bryan Broaddus
Rookie Watch: Though the team did not draft an offensive lineman this year, the rookie free agent signing they were most proud of was that of Ronald Leary, who the team graded as a third-round talent.
Leary went undrafted because of concerns about the long-term health of his surgically-repaired knee, but in the short term he could be a starting-caliber player. By the end of the offseason's on-field work, he was taking some snaps with the first-team offense at right guard, the spot vacated by Bernadeau's absence.
The Cowboys guaranteed over half of Leary's base salary for 2012, which doesn't mean his spot on the team is assured, necessarily, but works in his favor. If Bernadeau's progress is slow and Leary impresses during camp, it's certainly possible he could start this year.
Don't Forget About …A former fourth-round pick, David Arkin, who worked with the starting line for most of the summer. Given essentially a redshirt year as a rookie in 2011 because he wasn't up to par from a strength standpoint, Arkin has made significant progress in the weight room over the last year.
However, he has something to prove to make the team yet again. Given the numbers already in place along the offensive line, and capable young competition from the likes of Leary, Nagy and Kevin Kowalski, Arkin must show real progress in practices and preseason games to stick around. Under head coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have not been slaves to a player's draft status, so Arkin won't get a free pass just because he was a relatively high pick.
Tyron Smith:The challenge of avoiding a sophomore slump will be tougher at left tackle.
Nate Livings:Bigger, stronger and younger than Kyle Kosier, but will he play to his potential every week? That's been the knock thus far.
Phil Costa:Improvement was obvious as the 2011 season went on, but he must take another step to stay in the long-term plans.
Mackenzy Bernadeau:Still the favorite, probably, to start at right guard, but he has a lot of work to make up when healthy.
Doug Free:If his play doesn't improve at right tackle, the Cowboys will have another really bad contract on their hands.
Jermey Parnell:The offseason contract extension was a vote of confidence for a player with little game experience.
Kevin Kowalski:Undersized, but held his own when forced into action last year. Competing to keep his swing lineman job.
Bill Nagy:Was moved to center full-time to give him a better chance to win a starting job.
David Arkin:The jump from the Missouri Valley Conference to the NFL has been a tough one, but he'll have plenty of opportunities to show he's taken a step forward.
Pat McQuistan:His experience and versatility is an asset. He could stick around as a backup at guard and tackle, and might see snaps as a blocking tight end.
Jeff Adams: Ivy League lineman has an uphill fight to make it as a pro.
Tyrone Novikoff:Good size (6-6, 320), but probably on the outside looking in at a difficult numbers game.
Harland Gunn:A low-to-the-ground guard similar to Holland, he has an advantage when anchoring.
Levy Adcock:After playing in the spread at Oklahoma State, he should be an adequate pass-blocker.