IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys had plenty of question marks surrounding the offensive tackle spot entering free agency, and all of them haven’t been answered just yet.
With both Doug Free and Jermey Parnell having expiring contracts, the Cowboys made sure not to lose both of them. Free was re-signed before the March 10 start to free agency while Parnell signed a lucrative deal with the Jaguars, creating a void with the swing tackle.
Let’s look at the entire depth chart of offensive tackles:
Tyron Smith | Right now, we know Smith is one of the best offensive linemen in football. Everything the Dallas Cowboys expected out of him when they drafted Smith No. 9 overall in 2011 has come true, and then some. Smith is a dominant anchor to the left side of the line and figures to be a fixture for many years to come.
Still Need To Know If: Not much here. Smith is really good as a pass blocker and becoming just as good in his run-blocking. Penalties pop up here and there for Smith, but it wouldn’t exactly be considered a problem. The only thing we need to know about Smith is if he can maintain this high-level play for years. Obviously that’s not something any team can know for sure, but the Cowboys seem to be sure enough after giving him a $97.8 million contract extension last summer.
Doug Free | While there might be more talented offensive linemen on the team, Free is the leader of the young group. And no matter the draft status, the rest of the group looks up to Free, who has put together two good seasons after taking the Cowboys-issued pay cut two years ago.
Still Need To Know If: Injuries were a problem last year for Free, although it hasn’t been a reoccurring theme throughout his career. But last season he did missed five games and two more in the playoffs on a pair of unrelated injuries. While Free should be fully recovered for 2015, he has to prove the 31-year-old tackle can stay healthy for most of the year, especially with the swing tackle yet to be solidified behind him.
Darrion Weems | We don’t know much about his play but we know the Cowboys’ staff must really like what little they’ve seen. He had a year-long shoulder injury but is currently the leading candidate to earn the swing tackle spot.
Still Need To Know If: The jury remains out on Weems, who has yet to play in a regular-season game. But he’ll have to prove his worth long before the season begins. Weems has to show he can play both sides of the line and be the third tackle behind Smith and Free.
Donald Hawkins | While he didn’t play much in 2014, he does have some versatility to play both guard and tackle, something that always helps keep these offensive linemen around longer. He’s got some skill and with a full offseason, he could work himself into the depth chart.
Still Need To Know If: It’s not every day that a player listed at 6-4 is considered short, but by NFL offensive tackle standards, it’s less than ideal. Hawkins is the shortest listed tackle on the Cowboys’ current roster and he needs to prove he can handle those pass-rushing ends, while his body type looks a little more like a guard.
Roster Watch – –
John Wetzel: He nearly made the roster last year with a good training camp and stuck around for the second straight season on the practice squad. This might be the last shot for Wetzel to make the team, but considering the lack of depth currently on the team, this might be his best shot yet.
Ryan Miller: He played in eight games for the Browns in 2012 but has bounced around with a couple of teams since then. Even though he hasn’t been in a game in three years, his 6-7, 322-pound frame is intriguing. (Editors note: Miller is also listed below in the interior lineman Roster Watch)
R.J. Dill: Also has good size (6-6, 316) but lacks experience, having yet to play a game despite stops in New England and St. Louis.
Promising Prospects – Dallas Depth, Cowboy Competition | NFL Draft: OT
IRVING, Texas – How times have changed. The Dallas Cowboys went 30 years (1982-2010) without drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith broke the streak in 2011. Now in 2015, the club could actually select an offensive lineman in the first round for the fourth time in five years.
Jerry Jones doesn’t rule out anything, at least publicly, during draft season. At offensive tackle the edges are set with Smith and eight-year veteran Doug Free. But backup Jermey Parnell’s market value proved too pricey, and the club let him take a whopping five-year, $32 million deal from Jacksonville.
With Parnell gone, the Cowboys need a swing tackle who can back up the left and right sides. Darrion Weems, who missed the season following shoulder surgery, is an intriguing option. But the Cowboys will keep their eyes peeled on draft weekend for a quality backup tackle with starter potential.
Here’s a look at five NFL Draft Prospects in the early, middle and late rounds:
T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh – Ideally the Dallas Cowboys first-round pick will play (or preferably start) as a rookie. With Smith and Free locked in as starters, position flexibility would benefit any first-round tackle taken by Dallas (see: Zach Martin’s All-Pro season at right guard in 2014). La’el Collins, who started a full season at guard for LSU, will likely be gone well before No. 27. Clemmings, a first- to second-round prospect, was versatile enough to switch from defensive to offensive line in the middle of his career at Pitt, and some experts believe he has enough power to start his career inside before possibly kicking out to left or right tackle.
Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M – Ogbuehi might have been a lock for the first round in 2014 if he left college early. A torn ACL in the Aggies’ Liberty Bowl victory in late December red-flagged his draft stock, but generally he’s considered a Day 1 or early Day 2 pick. The All-American played guard early in his A&M career and has the frame (6-5, 305), length and agility to play both tackle spots in the NFL.
Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State – A tremendous athlete for a 6-5, 310-pounder, Sambrailo combines agility with pure nasty. Sambrailo’s high motor will undoubtedly win over scouts and coaches across the league, and while he needs to get stronger for the next level of competition, his recognition and leadership skills will get him drafted as early as Day 2 as a potential starting right tackle or guard.
Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin – NFL teams know what they’re getting in a Wisconsin offensive lineman: tough, physical, savvy, and well-coached. The Cowboys hit a home run with 2013 first-round pick Travis Frederick, and Havenstein possesses similar Badger traits as a projected mid-rounder. Despite a so-so combine performance – he graded low among offensive linemen in speed, agility and strength tests – Havenstein was the most dominant run blocker for national rushing leader Melvin Gordon and should be able to use that primary strength as a starting-caliber tackle or guard.
Andrew Donnal, Iowa – Donnal only started two games until his final season for the Hawkeyes, where he blossomed into an effective right tackle. While college teammate Brandon Scherff is considered one of the draft’s elite O-Line prospects, Donnal could grow into a starter as a developmental tackle taken in the middle-to-late rounds.
HOSS’ IN THE HUDDLE: State of the Interior – Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen
IRVING, Texas – While the Dallas Cowboys saw changes at several positions in free agency, the interior offensive line wasn’t exactly one of them.
In fact, of the three starters and primary backup, the Cowboys are expected to have all four players return for 2015. Fortunately for the Cowboys, two of them were All-Pro and played in last year’s Pro Bowl, alongside a pair of solid veterans.
Let’s look at the entire depth chart of interior linemen:
Travis Frederick | It’s not a stretch to call Frederick one of the best centers in all of football, even after two years. He was a second-team All-Pro in 2014 and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. On this vaunted offensive line, Doug Free is the veteran and Tyron Smith might be the most talented, but Frederick is arguably the smartest of the bunch.
Still Need To Know If: There aren’t many weaknesses in Frederick’s game at all, evident by his accolades at the end of the year. A player who excels on his technique, Frederick isn’t the most overpowering player in the running game, although it’s rare to find many centers who are maulers. That’s an area that could get better, but it’s rather nitpicky for one of the top players at his position.
Zack Martin | We know the Cowboys had the makings of a good offensive line before the draft last year. After Martin was inserted to the lineup, the Cowboys now have one of the most dominating lines in football, and DeMarco Murray is much richer because of it. Martin took the line to the next level and figures to be one of the NFL’s elite guards for years to come.
Still Need To Know If: Some might argue that Martin’s talents are too good to play guard and he could move out to tackle, a position he played in college. So we don’t know if the Cowboys will ever slide him out to right tackle if it helps the team. However, becoming the first offensive rookie to earn All-Pro honors in more than 40 years, it seems like guard is a natural fit for Martin.
Ronald Leary | Despite being overshadowed by three first-round picks and another fourth-rounder in Doug Free, Leary is far from the weak link on the offensive line. He saved arguably his best game for Houston when he matched up well with Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
Still Need To Know If: While he’s played well, the jury remains somewhat out if Leary can be the long-term option at left guard. The exclusive rights free agent this year will be restricted next year but don’t be surprised if the Cowboys try to sign him this year for a few more seasons. Obviously, that will determine on how well he performs early on in 2015.
Mackenzy Bernadeau | When it comes to versatile backups, Bernadeau fits the role perfectly. Most of his career snaps have been at guard and Bernadeau can play either left or right, but he’s got some ability to play center. On game day, he might not play at all but is the backup to all three interior positions.
Still Need To Know If: If the Cowboys get into a salary cap situation later this year, Bernadeau’s $2.8 million cap charge seems pricey for a player that might not get into the game. However, considering he would still count $1.3 million whether he’s on the team or not, it makes sense to have that stability and experience. If he has to play, there might be some drop-off but let’s not forget how close the battle for left guard was last year when Leary edged out Bernadeau. The veteran also started capably after Brian Waters went down with an injury in 2013.
Roster Watch – –
Ryan Miller | We don’t know a ton about Miller other than the fact that he was one of three offensive linemen to sign a futures contract with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Cleveland selected him from Colorado in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and he appeared in eight total games for the Browns. He spent time with San Diego and Denver without appearing in any games.
The Broncos released him from their practice squad this past November, and the Cowboys signed him Jan. 15 – just four days after they were eliminated from the playoffs. The pecking order at guard is fairly well established, so Miller will have his work cut out for him to make any noise during the lead up to the season.
Promising Prospects – Dallas Depth, Cowboy Competition | NFL Draft: C/OG
IRVING, Texas – Travis Frederick, Zack Martin. Two first-round picks, two Pro Bowl players.
Not a bad batting average over the past two years for the Dallas Cowboys.
This year the guard and center spots look relatively set. Frederick and Martin own their respective positions at center and right guard; Ronald Leary has been quietly consistent at left guard; and veteran backup Mackenzy Bernadeau offers value with his ability to play the trio of interior spots.
But with Bernadeau entering the final year of his contract and the Cowboys always looking for depth and competition at all positions, the club could be looking for a prospect who can play guard or center and eventually develop into a starter.
Here’s a look at five 2015 NFL Draft Prospects in the early, middle and late rounds:
Cameron Erving, C, Florida State – Zack Martin, anyone? Like the Dallas Cowboys’ All-Pro rookie guard, Erving primarily played tackle in college – he protected the blind sides of E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston – but also showed he can move inside in a pinch. Erving filled in at center for the final five games of his senior season, and the feeling among most NFL scouts is he can play just about anywhere on the line. As the draft’s best center prospect, he figures to go in the first or early second round.
A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina – As productive as any guard in this year’s class, Cann started 51 of a possible 52 career games at left guard in the rugged SEC and earned first team all-conference honors as a senior. The 6-2, 313-pound prospect is a powerful blocker and mobile enough to thrive in a zone-blocking scheme. Although Cann only played guard in college, he impressed scouts at his Pro Day by taking a lot of center reps, too. His versatility makes him a likely second-round pick who might even vault to the late first round (where the Dallas Cowboys are currently slotted at No. 27).
Ali Marpet, G, Hobart (N.Y.) – Running back Chris Warren (Seahawks, 1990) was the last top-100 draft pick from tiny Hobart College. Unknown among casual fans, he has worked his way into top-50 consideration with his outstanding NFL Combine performance that included the fastest 40 time among offensive linemen. Marpet was a three-year starter at left tackle for Hobart, but due to short measureables, including arm length, he projects inside at guard or center in the NFL. Teams must decide their comfort level in drafting a prospect who has only faced small-school competition outside of the Senior Bowl in January. But his toughness, football IQ and underrated athleticism have moved him into Day 2 consideration.
Greg Mancz, C, Toledo – Mancz tore his labrum during the East-West Shrine Game week and will still be rehabbing from surgery after the draft. Still, the four-year Toledo starter has plenty of talent for a projected Day 3 pick. A three-year starter at right guard and right tackle, Mancz moved to center as a senior and has good feet and agility for an inside position in a zone scheme.
Adam Shead, G, Oklahoma – Shead started 40 games over four years at left guard for the Sooners. The 6-5, 338-pounder is pretty nimble for his huge frame, but needs to improve his technique for the next level. Shead could be a late-round upside pick given his size and experience against major college competition.