The 53: Stepnoski To Anchor The Middle

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The most important part of each season may be the daily practice grind in July and August, when a team is truly built. As a countdown to this year's training camp, we celebrate the 53rd year of Cowboys football by constructing the team's all-time 53-man roster, picking one player for each season.

Not so much the 53 best players in club history, DallasCowboys.com has constructed the ultimate team, filling out the depth chart and making room for contributors at every position, including special teams, while at the same time looking ahead to how this year's 53-man roster might shake out.

The series continues today with 2001 and center Mark Stepnoski.

Name: Mark Stepnoski
Position:Center
College:Pittsburgh
Height/Weight: 6-2/269
Cowboys Tenure: 1989-94, 1999-2001

Why Him?While many Cowboys fans remember the 1989 draft and season for the selection of Troy Aikman, and rightfully so, the team also added key offensive components later in that draft. The selection of Daryl Johnston in the second and then Mark Stepnoski in the third, proved to be valuable pieces to the puzzle. As for Stepnoski, who took over for Tom Rafferty late in his rookie season, he was considered the eventual glue to an offensive line dominated with big names. While guys like Nate Newton, Erik Williams, Mark Tuinei and Larry Allen garnered more praise, Stepnoski was just as valuable in his role, which included making the line calls and providing a steady hand in the middle. Often the smallest lineman on the field, Stepnoski made up for it with great technique and awareness. He made three Pro Bowls in his first stint with the Cowboys from 1989-94, then returned after five years with the Titans to start three more seasons in Dallas.

The Role:After a healthy staff debate, Stepnoski was eventually named the starting center for this Ultimate 53 man roster. With worthy candidates such as John Fitzgerald and Andre Gurode missing the cut all together and Tom Rafferty being named a backup, we went with Stepnoski for his ability to play at a high level on great teams. But also, chemistry is a big part of any line, and our first-team line for this squad consists of three Stepnoski teammates in Allen, Newton and Williams, along with Hall-of-Famer Rayfield Wright, who could've probably played in any area.

Back To The Future: When Stepnoski played, there weren't many question marks about the center position. Even though he was lacking in physical size, his ability to make up for that and excel in other areas was never questioned. In fact, Stepnoski's presence in the middle was often considered a big strength for this team. Currently, the Cowboys have some questions at center, where Phil Costa likely returns for a second season as the starter. He should get pushed by Bill Nagy or even Kevin Kowalski, but entering camp, it appears Costa will be the favorite for the job. His career doesn't compare too well with Stepnoski, other than they're both considered smaller than average centers.

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