OXNARD, Calif. – Simple math says the Cowboys' offensive line should be much better in 2021.
Starting tackles Tyron Smith and La'el Collins have returned healthy from season-ending surgery in 2020. Starting right guard Zack Martin is also back after missing six games with injuries last year.
Those are big additions. But the biggest variable might be Tyler Biadasz's second-year jump at the center position.
"I'd say (I'm) a lot more comfortable," Biadasz said. "More assertiveness. More confidence. I know the system a lot more and better than I did last year."
Smith, Martin and Collins have been the line's foundation for the last several years. Left guard Connor Williams had his best season yet as the only line starter to play all 16 games in 2020, and he's also getting backup reps at center as the Cowboys look for depth at the position. Biadasz started and played one series in Thursday's preseason opener against the Steelers, and Williams moved from guard to center for the second series.
It's a strong group at full strength. Beyond health, though, Biadasz's development is critical to their resurgence.
In some ways, center is the most important position within the starting five. Biadasz, a fourth-round draft pick last year, functions as the line's quarterback, responsible for pre-snap checks and adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
Travis Frederick did that at a Pro Bowl level for seven years before announcing his retirement following the 2019 season. Biadasz, also a former Wisconsin Badger, emerged last year as a possible long-term replacement for Frederick.
"He reached out to me prior to the draft and then after the draft, too," Biadasz said. "He's a great guy. I got to meet him. We talked on the phone a couple times, about recovery and or doing position work or whatever.
"He gave me great tips and perspective. I'm also working my way into the role of being on his board for his Hunger Foundation, so I'm definitely in pretty close contact with him here and there."
The Cowboys probably don't expect Biadasz to be Travis Frederick in Year 2. But they do hope he can take a step forward with the first full offseason of his career.
"He's taking command of the operation," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has a complete understanding. Mentally it flows easy for him. I'm not concerned about that. I think it's only natural last year not having the extra time with a rookie playing center he was thinking probably a little too much. Part of the cadence operation, I feel good about where we are, but we can get better there. But he's having a really good camp."
Biadasz's rookie year was a rollercoaster. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out preseason and forced a shortened training camp. He moved into the starting lineup in October but suffered a freak hamstring injury warming up for the Nov. 8 Steelers game and landed on injured reserve. The Cowboys stuck with veteran Joe Looney at center down the stretch in an effort to establish continuity on the injury-riddled line.
Looney was not re-signed in the offseason, paving the way for Biadasz to win the starting job full-time, with Williams also working at center for the first time in his career.
"You have different things (to improve on)," Biadasz said. "Some of it was snaps and speed of snaps. Just be on the same communication. That is what it comes down to. Be on the same page and doing your job to the best of your ability."