IRVING, Texas – The backup offensive linemen forced into the starting rotation weren't the only reason for the seven sacks allowed Sunday against the Browns.
Head coach Jason Garrett wants to see a firmer presence in the pocket from tackle Doug Free, whose struggles Sunday played a part in four of the sacks on quarterback Tony Romo.
"At times this year he's done a good job of that against some good rushers," Garrett said, "other times he hasn't. It's a technical thing. It's a demeanor thing. He just has to keep working on it and doing a better job and that's really across the board up front. That's really throughout our football team."
Garrett said Free utilizes his athleticism, good feet and long arms and tends to play to those strengths and his finesse, but he could be grittier.
"Oftentimes up there, it can be a dogfight, too," Garrett said. "So you've got to play with that demeanor where you're going to bite the guy a little bit and be firm and not let him push you back into the quarterback. Again, at times Doug did a good job of that, at other times he didn't."
The shuffling of the offensive line to account for injuries forced Mackenzy Bernadeau from guard to center and backup Derrick Dockery to take Bernadeau's guard spot. Tyron Smith suffered a high ankle sprain early in the game, forcing Jermey Parnell to play the rest of the day at left tackle, his first significant minutes of the season.
Smith said he'd be a game-time decision this week, but he didn't practice Monday or Tuesday. The Cowboys have few remaining options left on the offensive line, and Garrett said Monday that Derrick Dockery would be the swing tackle if Smith's not ready to go.
It's possible the same line that played at the end of Sunday's game will start Thursday against the Redskins if Smith and center Ryan Cook aren't able to play. Kevin Kowalski could also provide depth at center if the Cowboys choose to use him for the first time this year.
"You have to be able to just plug the next guy in and come up with the right combination and move on and find some things that those guys are able to do well enough to execute ball plays," Garrett said. "That's really what the challenge is. It was a challenge for us last week going into the game. It was more of a challenge during the game. And it'll be a challenge this week as we get ready for the Redskins. I don't know the availability of the guys who are banged up yet, so we'll see what they are over the next couple of days."