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NFC East: Eagles Suspension Highlights Value Of Martin Pick


Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is going to miss the first month of this season for a positive test for performance enhancing drugs – that's the word according to several reports, at least.

That's a relatively big blow for the start of the Eagles' NFC title defense. Only one of their first four opponents, the Colts, had a truly impressive pass rush last year. But his suspension could leave Philadelpia without its starter for potential matchups against the likes of Aldon Smith (if he isn't suspended), not to mention Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo.

This has next to no impact on the Cowboys, as their games against the Eagles don't come until the final stages of the season – Week 13, on Thanksgiving Day, and Week 15. By that point, you have to imagine Johnson will be back with the team and in the full swing of things.

It raises an interesting thought, though. For all the talk about how good the Cowboys' offensive line should be, how would they handle a loss like this for the first month of the season? That's a stretch that features games against the 49ers, the fearsome front four in St. Louis and the duo of New Orleans' Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette.

If Doug Free – or even worse, Tyron Smith – missed a month of the season, how well would the Cowboys weather the storm? In previewing the upcoming season, we've mentioned that Jermey Parnell and Darrion Weems each have a chance to make a mark on the roster, and potentially push Free for a starting spot.

The problem is that neither reserve tackle has played much nor proven much at a starter level. Parnell platooned with Free two seasons ago and was fairly effective at right tackle, but he was unable to win the job last year in training camp – something many people were eager to see, given Free's struggles in 2012. Weems has talent but hasn't appeared in an NFL game. [embedded_ad]

One of the selling points about Zack Martin is that he's viewed as a five-position player, and he played tackle in college. He played on the left side for Notre Dame, but his size makes him a better fit for right tackle. He could potentially fill the gap if no one else is up for the task, but as of right now he hasn't played an NFL snap at guard. Would the Cowboys feel comfortable enough with his acclimation to swap him around the line like that?

I think that might be the best option, simply because there's more depth at guard. The common thinking around Valley Ranch is that Martin will start in place of either Mackenzy Bernadeau or Ronald Leary, giving the Cowboys an experienced starter on the bench. To Bernadeau's credit, he offers backup ability at both guard and center.

The recent signing of Uche Nwaneri, should he make the final roster, also bolsters that depth with a guy who has 92 career starts in the interior of Jacksonville's offensive line.

I'm not sure how well Martin would play at tackle, but the depth on the inside would give the Cowboys the freedom to make that move if Weems and Parnell weren't up to the task. That depth is a valuable asset, especially when you consider the injuries that have plagued this team in recent seasons.

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