FRISCO, Texas – Besides “often dominant,” the best way to describe this Cowboys offensive line over the last several years might be “continuity.”
Yet there was a change at the top this offseason: offensive line coach Frank Pollack has been replaced by Paul Alexander, who held the same position in Cincinnati for the previous 23 years.
Safe to say Alexander is inheriting a pretty good group – and the Cowboys believe he can make them better.
Long regarded as one of the NFL’s best blocking units, the line has fielded three perennial Pro Bowlers since 2014: left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin.
“To me, it’s like I’ve gone to heaven,” Alexander said after a recent OTA workout. “It’s the most beautiful football situation I’ve ever been in.
“They’re smart. They’re good, they want to get better. I told them after the first day, ‘Guys, thank you for letting me coach you.’ A lot of times you go into a place with good players and they’re not going to want to listen to you. But they’re very eager.”
Overall, the line’s formula has been highly successful in recent years. The offense has produced an NFL rushing title (Ezekiel Elliott in 2016) and statistically the best rookie quarterback season in league history (Dak Prescott in 2016). But Alexander can add new ideas with his experience, and maybe most important, his variety of experience.
“He’s really an interesting guy because he’s been in one place for a long time, but he’s worked with a lot of different coordinators,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “So he’s been exposed to a lot of different schemes in football, a lot of different techniques. So he really has a broad range of knowledge about this position. He’s a really, really good teacher.”
Alexander’s teaching will be important. The line showed rare vulnerability last season, struggling mightily to protect Prescott from the left tackle spot when Smith wasn’t in the lineup. Twenty-two of Prescott’s 32 sacks came in the final eight games without Smith and Elliott in the lineup for stretches.
The front office addressed the tackle depth this spring by signing veteran Cameron Fleming, who started in the Super Bowl for New England, and drafting second-round pick Connor Williams to likely play guard – allowing La’el Collins to stay at right tackle after a solid first season playing on the outside.
It’s a nice blend of veterans and young talent for Alexander to coach.
“On different blocks, I’m saying, ‘OK, you’ve done it this way, let’s try it this way and you tell me what you like better,’” he said. “The young guys, (it’s) ‘No, you’re doing it this way.’ But some of the guys who have been really successful, I’m going to take that away from the guy. That’s kind of the approach we’ve had.
“It’s been great. I love the meetings. They’re smart. They know how to play. They work really hard.”
Alexander has a track record of developing and working with productive pros. Tackles Willie Anderson and Andrew Whitworth made multiple Pro Bowls for the Bengals.
“Coach Alexander’s a really smart guy. You can tell that he’s been doing this for a long time,” Frederick said. “He continues to try and teach us those things that he’s bringing in, just trying to give us new tools for our toolbox and help some of these younger guys get up to speed.”