IRVING, Texas – A veteran starter for the Cowboys started the week understanding he could line up this weekend at a position he's never played before in a meaningful game in his life.
Doug Free said he was "slightly surprised" when the Cowboys asked him to get some work at right guard midway through the preseason. Just a couple weeks later, he knows the team may ask him to move inside against the Giants, though the signing of free agent guard Brian Waters may allow the team to keep him at tackle.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make this team better," Free said. "I think I've proven that before, and I'll prove it again."
Free, who's rotated between both tackle spots during his career with the Cowboys, said the team hasn't come to a conclusion whether or not he'll be playing his normal right tackle position or right guard this week, but he's sure he can make the switch if he needs to. He said the previous switches he's made on the line has helped him as he learns the transition inside.
The Cowboys brought in Waters late Tuesday, but the veteran will likely need at least a week to get ready and learn the system. That could mean the Cowboys choose to put Free inside on the line this weekend, though they should have a couple options if Ron Leary's healthy enough to play.
There's an obvious difference in technique, footwork and the size of the players he's blocking at guard compared to tackle. Free said it can be difficult going into a practice not knowing where he'll line up, but a veteran offensive lineman should have a general idea of what every player should be doing on the line.
"It takes a little bit of getting used to," Free said, "but the main thing is you've got to have confidence in yourself. You've just got to keep working at it."
Head coach Jason Garrett said the conversation was very direct when the Cowboys let Free know he'd be working in at guard, which is where he started in the dress rehearsal preseason game against the Bengals while Leary was hurt. Leary's still recovering from a knee injury and is trying to get back for the opener.
"We're trying to put the best five together up front," Garrett said. "Doug is a guy who's very strong. He's a versatile athlete. Even though he hasn't played in there, we all felt kind of intuitively that he could do different things. He's played on the left side as a tackle, he's played on the right side as a tackle. He's just a good athlete and is a smart football player."
Garrett admits it takes time to get comfortable making that kind of switch, even though he believes Free possesses the physical attributes that will allow him to play both positions. He thought Free got better inside as the Bengals game went on.
The Cowboys may end up keeping Free at right tackle if Leary's healthy, but Garrett said it's nice to have the move to guard in his back pocket if they so choose.
"That does give us something, a way to absorb some injuries, and that's really what the initial motivation was," Garrett said. "That's what you're always trying to do. You can only have so many linemen, so many active linemen, in a ballgame, so you got to be able to play a couple different spots and play with different combinations. To have a guy like Doug to be able to do that, that's good for your team."
Free believes if he moves inside this weekend he can help out center Travis Frederick in the rookie's first game as a pro. Frederick said Free's ability to perform multiple roles on the line demonstrates the veteran's character and intelligence.
"He's a pro's pro," Frederick said of Free. "When you can lean on a tackle like that to move inside and not have mistakes, because he already knows what that person's supposed to be doing, and the little technique nuances and things, that just tells you how intelligent he is and how focused he is."
Running back DeMarco Murray shared similar thoughts on Free's versatility and willingness.
"He's been around this team for quite some time," Murray said. "He's always played tackle. He knows the offense, center, guard, whatever it is, he knows, and he just wants whatever's best for this team."