FRISCO, Texas – No one from the Cowboys coaching staff has told La'el Collins that he has officially been moved from guard, where he started his career as a Cowboy, to offensive tackle. But it's not exactly difficult to come to that conclusion with the evidence provided.
"Every day I've been at right tackle," Collins said. "I haven't done really anything at guard this OTA's."
Collins, who played tackle in college at LSU, converted to guard when the Cowboys drafted him in 2015, likely because the chances of him unearthing playing time from starting tackles Tyron Smith or Doug Free were small. But the Cowboys drafted him because of that versatility, and now, in the wake of Free's retirement it looks as though Collins is returning to his original position.
"Honestly, it doesn't even feel like I've changed positions," Collins said. "It just feels like I'm playing right tackle. It feels good."
There's obviously some nuanced differences between the two positions, one of which is that at tackle players will typically wait for a defender to come to them. A guard is more likely to initiate the contact, which has taken a small amount of getting used to for Collins at the NFL level.
"I like to be a little aggressive," Collins said. "But there's a time and a place for that."
But even with that difference, Collins has been able to look back to an unlikely silver lining: a left toe injury that forced him to miss the majority of last season.
"It's staying patient," he said. "Dealing with my injury last year really taught me patience. That has made the transition a little bit easier."
Plus, Collins said that the injury "immediately" started his offseason training so he has actually come into this season stronger and more prepared to play tackle.
The Cowboys have had the consensus best offensive line in football for the past few years and Collins' position change is the biggest variable in whether or not that status will continue to hold true. For the moment, running back Ezekiel Elliott isn't worried about changes to his offensive line.
"It always takes a little while to get into the groove no matter who's in there," Elliott said. "Whether it's the same guys from last year versus new guys. But we have tremendous talent at the offensive line. We don't know who's going to be where, but I know there's a lot of talent."
The All-Pro talent up front clearly makes Elliott's job easier, but it would be a misconception to say that someone like Collins has some sort of advantage to the point of being able to lean on his more established teammates. He says he's lucky to be able to come to players like Smith or Zach Martin for advice, but when the ball snaps it's every man for himself and one letdown will kill a play.
"When you're between those hashes it doesn't matter if you're an All-Pro, first round, free agent, it don't matter," Collins said. "You have to go out there and get the job done."
Another thing that comes with a switch to tackle is a whole new type of pass rusher coming at him, the likes of which he has never seen in the NFL. But if you ask Collins, that's not something he's concerned about.
"No, I really don't care," he said. "They don't mean nothing to me. I'll see them when I see them."