IRVING, Texas – Center Phil Costa has been with the Cowboys three times as long as both guards who played next to him in 2012, yet evaluating Costa might be just as difficult as anyone on the line.
Costa played in only three games last season after back and ankle injuries, finishing only one of those three games fully. He left after the first series against the Giants in the opener and injured his ankle midway through the Panthers game in Week 7, never to play again the rest of the year.
The only game Costa played in its entirety came against the Ravens, when the struggling Cowboys rushing attack managed to break out for 227 yards on the ground. Owner Jerry Jones indicated that the restricted free agent could be the starter at center if the pieces around him are adequate.
"You've got to weigh what Costa is, as opposed to what he isn't," Jones said. "He doesn't have the arm length. What he is, is as smart as anyone playing in the NFL. What he is, is tenacious. At that position, you can't do it with two other Costas on either side of him."
Jones said he doesn't think the back problem Costa suffered at the beginning of last season will be chronic, and he believes a healthy Costa could be an asset after watching him play sporadically for three seasons since joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2010. Costa did play in all 16 games in 2011, after playing in only four games the year prior.
The lack of arm length on Costa means a hefty player next to him – a guard who can be a sturdy anchor on the line – would be beneficial. Jones explained if the [embedded_ad] Cowboys can put a top player on one side of Costa, then the center can be a good addition to the team, even if the other player next to him is average.
Last season, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings lined up next to Costa in all three games that the center played.
Jones said Bernadeau's athletic ability didn't show like he thought it would, mostly attributing that to the guard's lack of health in the offseason. Jones said Livings came to Dallas after getting offered more money by St. Louis and might have been a step up from Kyle Kosier, but the production on the line wasn't what the Cowboys hoped it would be.
"If we can get in better shape with our guards, then Costa is going to be a good center for us," Jones said. "I can see going with Costa at center for several years."
Both guards fought through aches and pains to play in all 16 games, but it's a position with depth in the draft and one that could warrant a first-round selection by the Cowboys. Alabama's Chance Warmack, North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper and Kentucky's Larry Warford are all possible first-round selections at guard, a position that typically doesn't get drafted often in the early rounds.
Cooper helped himself at the combine by putting up 35 bench press reps, while also running a speedy 5.07 40-yard dash. Warford was a standout at the Senior Bowl, though he didn't put up staggering numbers at
the combine. Warmack tested better than the other two guards in the broad jump and ran slightly faster than Warford in the 40-yard dash (5.49), but he only participated in the two events.
Cooper and Warmack have the best chance of getting selected in the top round, but if Jones and the Cowboys feel like upgrading at guard, any one of those three college standouts could be an option. Whether Jones expects more out of his current players or looks to the draft, the owner/general manager could use more stability against inside rushers coming toward quarterback Tony Romo.
"I feel real good about where this thing sits right now," Jones said, "but I'm not in a good mood. I'm not in a bad mood. But I'm sure not up here celebrating at the combine or in the offseason. This thing has been a big disappointment these last couple of years to have Romo healthy and playing well and not doing better than we've done."