FRISCO, Texas – Since the 2020 season ended, the biggest changes to the Cowboys have come on defense.
A new defensive coordinator (Dan Quinn), defensive passing game coordinator (Joe Whitt) and defensive line coach (Aden Durde). Six additions in free agency (Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, Brent Urban, Tarell Basham, Carlos Watkins).
There are significant changes coming on offense, too: better health.
The most obvious is quarterback Dak Prescott's expected return from last year's ankle injury. But head coach Mike McCarthy believes a more stable offensive line also should make a huge difference – not just for Prescott, but the entire team's outlook.
"I learned this in 2000 as the offensive coordinator for the Saints: When your starting offensive line lines up and plays 16 games in a row, you're a good football team," McCarthy said last week. "We had massive injuries around it, but they gave you the consistency and the stability. When the line of scrimmage is stable and there's a consistency there, your opportunity for success is heightened around it. That's just my belief.
"Statistically if you look it up, the health of the offensive line in accordance with the wins and losses of the team, they definitely reflect. They coincide."
The offensive line has been the team's rock for the better part of a decade. Last year, injuries shook the foundation. Right tackle La'el Collins missed the entire season with a hip injury that required surgery. Left tackle Tyron Smith started only two games before season-ending neck surgery. Right guard Zack Martin pitched in at right tackle before sitting out the final five games with a calf injury. Joe Looney and rookie Tyler Biadasz alternated at center throughout the year.
All in all, the Cowboys had eight different starting lineups. Only left guard Connor Williams started all 16 games. If there's a silver lining, the club got extended looks at young linemen Connor McGovern, Tyler Biadasz, Terence Steele and Brandon Knight. Veteran Ty Nsekhe also signed a one-year deal in March as an experienced swing tackle candidate.
The Cowboys are hopeful they'll have a lot more consistency up front in 2021, and it starts on the edges. McCarthy said Smith and Collins "look great" in their injury rehab with the athletic training staff this offseason.
"I'm looking forward to lining up and playing with those guys," McCarthy said. "That was one of the big attractions of the job, frankly, a year and a half ago. And you can't have enough.
"We felt like we had really good numbers coming into the season, but we just hit one of those years where the tackle position was under siege with injuries. So frankly, I think we're very competitive situation for the offensive line. I can't line them up yet, but when they get healthy I think you're going to see really good competition there."