The offensive line in Dallas is no longer designed to prosper with each of the five positions having permanent stations because, as seen in 2022, versatility is required going forward
INDIANAPOLIS — As the 2023 NFL Combine rolls along at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys are present, accounted for and locked in on prospect interviews and drills at every position, and the offensive line is one of the key areas they'll need to upgrade if they're to finally break the longstanding Super Bowl drought in 2023.
Having parted ways with offensive line coach Joe Philbin, replacing him with Mike Solari, there's change afoot both in the coaching staff at that position as well as, potentially, in its personnel on the field, considering starting left guard Connor McGovern is entering unrestricted free agency on March 15 (barring a new deal before then).
The consensus is that this year's class of offensive linemen isn't as deep as in some years past, and that means the Cowboys have a greater challenge in repeating the success of recent draft picks — e.g., Tyler Smith in 2022 — but Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay is up to the task.
It also helps when you have a type, as McClay and the Cowboys do.
Versatility is the name of the game in Dallas.
"I think you have to have that because there's not enough quality offensive linemen for all 32 teams — for everybody to have a solid offensive line," McClay said from Indy. "What you look for is versatility. What you look for is guys that have the opportunity to grow and improve their skill set. The college game is different from the NFL game.
"You want to get guys who can come into the situation and that can pick up on the trends, do the things and that can apply those techniques that are being taught."
The aforementioned Smith is a prime example of what McClay is seeking: a player who can slide inside and pop back outside to the edge as needed, often because of injury to other linemen. In 2022, Smith went through the entirety of training camp having not taken a single snap at tackle, but the injury to starting left tackle Tyron Smith in August changed the plan for the rookie.
Having played tackle at Tulsa, he was thrust back to his base position and not only performed admirably, but truly saved the day at that station; and later he'd be moved back to left guard, and then back to left tackle, so forth and so on.
And, despite that game of musical chairs, he didn't miss a step. So as the Cowboys begin to build their big board for the 2023 NFL Draft, any offensive linemen garnering their attention will be those who McClay and Co. believe have the ability to thrive wherever the team needs them to across the offensive front.
As McGovern and Aviante Collins can attest, sometimes that includes playing fullback, and even 40-year-old Jason Peters and 32-year-old Tyron Smith were flexed to right tackle, a position they hadn't played since they entered the league in yesteryear.
"You look for athletic people and the most athletic linemen are usually on the outside," McClay said. "Now, do they have the ability to move inside in the process, but the further you move inside, the more information you have to process, consume and dissect. You want to find out if they're athletic enough, but also if they can handle the other things when they drop down inside.
"You're looking for those versatile guys."
Anyone with that attribute will have a leg up over the others when it comes to their odds of wearing a Cowboys uniform to start their NFL career.