The Dallas Cowboys made several critical moves on the offensive line before the beginning of the 2011 season. At the time, head coach Jason Garrett said it was a winning move, not a rebuilding one. (He later said the opposite after Dallas finished a disappointing 8-8 season like a coward, but that’s a different Rant). Regardless, it was a move in the right direction, but now the Cowboys must continue in that direction instead of sitting tight.
Last off-season, the Cowboys got rid of three perennial starters, including Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis. Dallas replaced those veterans with a third-year benchwarmer and two rookies. That plan didn’t turn out too bad as first-round Tyron Smith was decent at right tackle and seventh-round pick Bill Nagy was solid at left guard before breaking his ankle early in the season. As for Costa, an upgrade is needed now.
Despite Nagy’s pre-injury performance, he’s not getting any love this off-season. Plus, the Cowboys cut another veteran starter, right guard Kyle Kosier, opening another starting spot for a youngster. However, newly-signed veterans Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau are looking for fresh starts and NFL homes in Dallas, so those jobs are highly coveted.
Still, Nagy should be the frontrunner for the left guard spot since he played so well in his first few games as a pro. Livings is the strongest veteran newcomer, so he should be the most likely candidate for the right guard spot. That doesn’t mean Bernadeau and second-year pro David Arkin are out of the running, but they should have to beat out the previously mentioned players for the two inside spots.
Smith and Doug Free are set in stone at the tackle spots, so that just leaves center, the position that plagued Dallas the most in 2011. Phil Costa was awful all the way around. He missed snap counts, missed assignments and flat out missed blocks, which caused Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo a great deal of misery. Still, he has no competition for a starting spot this year according to the buzz around Valley Ranch.
That’s horse radish because second-year undrafted pro Kevin Kowalski played very well during his limited time as a rookie in Costa’s place. The elder player suffered a knee injury in Week 2, but Kowalski filled in superbly to help ensure an overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers, who boast arguably the NFL’s best defense. However, Kowalski isn’t even being considered for a starting spot this season.
That’s not to say Costa should just be stripped of his title because of last season; the Cowboys’ coaching staff keeps saying they “hope” Costa will improve this off-season and earn the right to keep his job. However, no one is actually saying Costa is getting better, but Dallas still has all of training camp so he has time.
But at the same time, Kowalski should be given an equal chance to win the spot. He might fail, but it sure isn’t a bad idea to give him a shot. Heck, the Cowboys only have one starter up front that was on the team 24 months ago, yet the team performed at an average level in 2011. To take the next step toward becoming a winning team, Dallas must now take a similar step to the one it took this time last year in overhauling the offensive line from within. If Garrett stays with his cowardly speech from January, the offensive line and the Cowboys are doomed.