IRVING, Texas – There's only one main reason Doug Free lined up at right guard at practice Wednesday and at the stadium Thursday, and it has very little to do with any of the players surrounding Free that day.
It has everything to do with the impact one currently injured undrafted player, who didn't take a single snap last season, will be to the success of the offensive line this year.
The Cowboys have placed a great deal of faith in guard Ron Leary, who spent the majority of his rookie season last year on the Dallas practice squad after going undrafted out of Memphis. It's with good reason, considering how the line looked when Leary was healthy at left guard during the preseason this year.
The rushing lanes seemed to open up on that side of the line with Tyron Smith at left tackle and the bulky Leary to his right. Sandwiched between Smith and rookie center Travis Frederick, Leary helped the line look stout, and if he can get back quickly, the Cowboys can feel somewhat confident at that spot.
Leary's responsible for all the changes and mixing and matching the Cowboys are doing now, including the move of Free to right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau to left guard and Jermey Parnell to the starting rotation for the time being, even if that's not their hope for the opener. The Dallas coaches are searching for any possible answer right now with Leary out of the starting lineup after a knee scope, including the move of their starting right tackle to the interior of the line.
Of course, they expect Leary to come back by the season opener, but they need contingency plans if he can't return for Week 1. As of now, it doesn't appear that Nate Livings is about to return, and even if he does, there's no guarantee he comes back a starter. It's probably unlikely at this point. If both Livings and Leary are healthy for the Giants game, nothing we've seen would indicate Livings would crack the starting rotation.
That's a lot of faith and a lot of stock they put in a player who hasn't started a snap in the NFL, but everything they've seen from Leary would indicate that he's a starting caliber player. All the talk of moving Free inside, moving Parnell to starting right tackle or even moving Frederick to guard will dissipate the moment a healthy Leary can return. The Cowboys hope that can happen before Sept. 8.