IRVING, Texas – Any time the Cowboys' offensive line is mentioned these days, there is usually a reference to the three first-round picks in the last four seasons.
Another one of the starting linemen was a fourth-round pick as well.
And then there's Ronald Leary, the only starter on the team that wasn't drafted by the Cowboys.
Yet, when it comes to overall performance this year, Leary probably wouldn't be graded out last. And if you just watched the game film from Sunday's 20-17 win over the Texans, you could make a case that none of his teammates blocked any better, especially in the one-on-one matchups with J.J. Watt.
"I've always been a pretty confident person. J.J. has been one of the greatest defensive players in the game," Leary said. "Any matchup against him you're going to take it as a personal challenge. That's what I did going into the game."
Coach Jason Garrett said he was Leary played one of his better games, regardless of the matchup.
"Ronald really held his own against that whole front, but particularly when J.J Watt matched up against him," Garrett said. "It's not easy, that guy is really a good football player, and arguably as good a defensive player as there is in the league. He hung in there against him, and did a pretty good job anchoring against him. He didn't allow a push in the quarterbacks' face. He competed well. Those downs are not easy, they're hard. They do a good job creating those individual matchups. He hung in there the best he could."
Leary, the Cowboys' starting left guard the past two seasons, was an undrafted player in 2012 out of Memphis, where he actually played offensive tackle. But his 6-3, 320-pound frame had NFL clubs pegging him more as a guard or interior player. Coupled that with some nagging knee injury concerns and Leary's draft stock plummeted before the draft.
However, immediately following the seventh-round of the draft that year, owner and GM Jerry Jones addressed the media in a post-draft press conference and was somewhat giddy when announcing the club had come to an agreement with Leary as an undrafted rookie.
After spending all of 2012 on the practice squad, Leary worked his way into the starting lineup last season, when he started all 16 games.
And while he plays in between Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick – two of the team's three first-round picks along with rookie Zack Martin, Leary said he never feels overshadowed by his high-profile colleagues.
"Nah, if you talk to those guys, they don't like all of that attention," Leary said. "As linemen, we're the guys that just put our heads down to go to work. We don't pay attention to all of that stuff. We know, as the offensive line, if one isn't going we're not going to go. If all five of us are going, we'll get the job done."
And once again, the line did their job Sunday against the Texans, but even by Tuesday of this week, Leary said it's time to start thinking of this week's matchup against the defending-champion Seahawks. [embedded_ad]
"We know every week presents a new challenge. We played the game, watched the film, and we put it behind us and moved on to next week," Leary said. "We're going to stick to our game plan. We're not going to change too much. We're going to do what we've done all season. The plays will get called and we're going to execute what gets called."
Likely to be called often will be runs to the left side behind Leary and Smith. But even the young guard wouldn't call it the strength of the line, despite the NFL's leading rusher DeMarco Murray averaging more than 8.0 yards per carry while running left.
"Everyone does their job, not just the left side," Leary said of Murray. "He can't get to the left side if the back side don't get their backs. We just do our job. DeMarco is a great back and he'll make all the right cuts to get the yards for us."
So far, Murray leads the entire NFL in rushing with 670 yards, a 210-yard lead on Pittsburgh's La'Veon Bell (460 yards).
"The offensive line really gets all the credit," Murray said. "They're giving me great lanes to run through. Those guys work so hard each week. My hat is off to those five up front."