PHOENIX– Sometimes that final piece to the puzzle can be viewed as the most important.
And perhaps that just might be the case for the Cowboys' talented offensive line that features three first-round picks, including Zack Martin, who had a rookie year for the ages.
Martin became the first rookie offensive lineman in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl and the first overall rookie to make it in 45 years.
But while the perception is Martin's arrival put the Cowboys' O-line over the top, the rookie guard suggested it might be the other way around.
"I don't know if I'd be here right now if I didn't get drafted in Dallas," Martin said from the Pro Bowl in Phoenix, where he is one of eight Cowboys selected for the game. "It's just right place, right time. (Martin's offensive line teammates) hold you to a higher standard and bring out the best in you. I really couldn't ask for a better spot."
And when he means a spot, he's talking about his right guard position, where he gets to have a smart, talented center in Travis Frederick, who is also making his first Pro Bowl this week, to his left side. And then he had savvy veteran Doug Free at right tackle for most of the year.
"I couldn't have landed in a better spot, with a better group of guys that just want to be successful," Martin said. "These guys have helped me so much this year. And I think as a group, we've just made an effort to get better and better and keep raising the bar."
With three first-round picks on one offensive line, the bar was already raised. In fact, even before the season, this line was getting compared to the great O-lines from the 1990s that featured the likes of Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Erik Williams, Mark Tuinei and then, of course, Larry Allen, who made 10 Pro Bowls with the Cowboys.
"I think everyone tried to connect the two pieces and talk about that," Martin said. "I can't speak for everyone, but I think we all feel lucky that Mr. (Jerry) Jones and Coach (Jason) Garrett got us together and gave us a chance to play with each other. Everyone works so hard and pushes each other to be better. We know that if we can do our job, we can make a big impact on how our team does. That's the goal, to keep getting better and try to become the strongest group on the team."
Now, that's not exactly the same mindset Martin and his teammates have here at the Pro Bowl, where the intensity level is certainly not in the same stratosphere of a regular-season game, nor should it be.
But Martin at least will have some familiar surroundings, both in practice this week and in the game Sunday night. He's on Michael Irvin's team, which will be not only coached by the Cowboys' staff, but he'll have teammates Frederick and Tryon Smith on the line, along with tight end Jason Witten. He'll be blocking for both Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray as well.
"It's great to be here and meet all of these guys from other teams," Martin said. "I've watched some of these guys for a while over the past decade. But to have so many of our guys here and the coaching staff, it's made it an easier transition this week. I'm just trying to soak it up and have some fun."
Not bad for a player who 365 days ago was one of the rookies participating in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., trying to convince the coaches and scouts he could make the switch to guard.
Whatever he did last year certainly paid off. And now he's getting to reap the benefits.
"I can tell you this was a lot more relaxing this week than the Senior Bowl," Martin said. "That's for sure."