After he signed a four-year, $32 million contract right before training camp, a lot of people might expect Cowboys left tackle Doug Free to be perfect, to never give up a sack.
That was just never realistic. Free did go through a stretch earlier this season when he was having problems, but like the rest of the offensive line, they have been fewer and farther between of late. Neither he or anyone else has allowed a sack in the last two weeks, with Free taking on the very best rushers for the opposing teams.
Halfway into 2011, Free in particular is beginning to look more like the player who garnered the big payday in 2010 and 2009, when expectations were much lower.
"I think he's getting better, yeah," line coach Hudson Houck said. "It was blown out of proportion a little bit how poorly he was playing, to be honest with you. That's just my opinion. Is he playing better? Yeah, he is playing better . . . He's more consistent on his pass protections, basically. Run blocking he's fine. He gets downfield, he finishes blocks, the effort level is very high with him.
"He was struggling a little bit with his pass sets. I think we identified some problems, just like your golf swing . . . you have to get on the practice range and work on it until you get it straightened out, and I think that's kind of the case with him."
Some of Free's biggest troubles came against Washington and Brian Orakpo in Week 3, but he also gave up sacks against lesser-known rushers for Detroit and St. Louis, and Philadelphia's Trent Cole beat him for one in Week 8.
Since then, however, nothing.
"Like with everybody, you're just trying to get better with every opportunity you have," Jason Garrett said. "I think Doug's a good example of that, challenged with some really good defensive fronts and good defensive players early on in the year. That's continued, but he just continues to get better over there playing left tackle. I think he grew last year during his time playing there, and I think it's just the process of taking advantage of his opportunities. He's playing physically stronger, I think he's protecting better, I think he's run blocking better.
"And I think one of the things that we preach to our team is getting better individually as the season goes on. That'll help us get better collectively, and I think he's a good example of that."