IRVING, Texas –When Mackenzy Bernadeau signed a four-year contract with the Cowboys back in March, he was just looking for an opportunity – something he didn't always have in his first four seasons in Carolina.
More of a backup and often considered an afterthought in terms of a potential starter, Bernadeau welcomed the chance to join the Cowboys, with the hopes of becoming an every-down player.
The four-year, $11 million contract certainly suggested the Cowboys have high hopes for Bernadeau, but he's going to have to earn it.
"You always have to compete. I feel like you always have to compete and that's the mentality I'm taking and it doesn't matter how much you sign for," Bernadeau said. "There's a lot of young talent on this team and also with the setback with me because of the hip injury. You always have to compete and fight for a spot no matter what and that's the mentality I'm taking."
And the hip injury he mentioned is certainly making it more of an uphill battle for Bernadeau, who was clearly one of the favorites to win the right guard position back in March and April.
But now that Bernadeau has missed all of OTAs and the minicamp after undergoing surgery on his hip, he'll have some battling to do once he returns. As of Thursday, Bernadeau said he has "no timetable" for a return date.
He won't be ready for the first full-team practice Monday in Oxnard, Calif. And that's why the Cowboys have placed him on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, where he will be until he's 100 percent and cleared for practice.
And the longer it goes until that point, the more anxious Bernadeau will likely be.
"You're always itching to come back because you hate missing out, but also you want to compete as much as possible," he said. "It's one of those things where you're itching to come back but also you want to play it safe. You don't want to rush things back and then push it too much. I'm eager to come back, but I want to make sure I'm 100 percent and get my leg strength back."
Until then, the Cowboys will likely go with a rotation of young players in second-year pro David Arkin and rookie Ronald Leary, a converted tackle from Memphis. Arkin was inactive for every game last season and has yet to prove he's completely turned the corner in his second year, but Bernadeau's injury has opened the door for him.
As for Leary, who played tackle in college, he was a mid-round prospect who went undrafted because teams feared he could have a major knee injury. The Cowboys took the chance with an undrafted signing, but now he's worked his way into the rotation of taking first-team snaps.
That's all the more reason for Bernadeau to get back in the mix.
"We have some young talent here and they're doing some good things," Bernadeau said. "But I can't rush it back for that. My job is to get healthy. (The Cowboys) know what I can do and that's why they brought me here. I think it'll work out."
One of the reasons Bernadeau is excited about this opportunity is the chance to work with offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who is also the team's offensive coordinator.
"He's a coach. He helps out the young guys, but he's also a student," Bernadeau said of Callahan. "He helps the players become a student of the game. He challenges us sometimes, but he's huge on technique. That obviously makes everybody a better player, so I'm looking forward to that."
But not as much as he is to getting back on the field – something he hopes happens sooner, rather than later.