Even though it was just an extremely early preseason game, the Dallas Cowboys got a good look at their offensive line during a 24-20 “win” over the Miami Dolphins in the annual Hall of Fame Game on Sunday. There were quite a few pleasant surprises, although it’s important not to take too much from a preseason game, and Ronald Leary was by far the brightest spot for Dallas.
Leary turned heads early last week with a very strong practice during training camp and has built on that every day since and it culminated with his impressive performance against Miami. He played a lot and he played well, which is something that can’t be said about many Cowboys offensive linemen for nearly the last half-decade. In 2011, Kevin Kowalksi and Bill Nagy both did enough in the preseason to earn starting jobs, although neither was plugged in long-term because of injury and eventually the stupidity of the Cowboys’ coaching staff and front office. Now Leary is trying to buck that trend in 2013.
It’s safe to say he’s off to a good start after receiving positive reports from literally everyone in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, including Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who told ESPN he’s a Leary fan:
“I don’t want to be the coach, but I’m comfortable,” Jones said. “He has a substance. It’s not just his size, but his punch. He has a base in the middle.”
Jerry saying he doesn’t want to be the coach is arguably the biggest crock he’s ever told, and that’s saying something. To stay on point, though — Jerry surprisingly got this one right: Leary is big and strong, but he also knows how to use that size and strength to ward off pass-rushers and would-be tacklers. He did a great job in pass protection against Miami and proved his worth as a run-blocker to the Cowboys’ coaching staff, who used him frequently as the pulling guard on power runs to the right.
Leary not only looked comfortable against the Dolphins, he looked confident. A year on the practice squad did him some good because his technique and footwork are worlds better than they were in 2012. Of course, he’ll need to show that same improvement and consistency for the rest of the preseason but right now, he’s the frontrunner to start at left guard, even if Nate Livings is healthy in time for the regular season opener.
Look, Livings was never going to be an upgrade to the Cowboys’ offensive line. He and Mackenzie Bernadeau were expendable roster-fillers for the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers and Jerry ignorantly signed them as presented them as saviors to Dallas’ offensive line woes. So even if Livings returns from his second knee surgery since the end of last season, Leary should start because he’s simply a better player.
The best part about Leary is he’s not satisfied with the progress he’s made already. He told ESPN that he’s nowhere near the player he wants to be and if he keeps improving like he has this offseason, he could be the best offensive lineman on the Cowboys’ roster sooner than you think.