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News: Eatman: Pieces To O-Line Puzzle Coming Together

Discussion in 'News Zone' started by Roughneck, Jul 16, 2004.

  1. Roughneck

    Roughneck Active Member

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    Nick Eatman
    DallasCowbys.com Staff Writer
    July 16 2004, 5:53 p.m. (CDT)

    (Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a 10-part series, DallasCowboys.com analyzing the Cowboys position-by-position as they begin final preparations for the July 31 start to training camp. Today will feature the offensive line.)

    IRVING, Texas -- At the beginning of the off-season, it looked as if the offensive line would get a major facelift. Not because a lot of changes would be made, but that the end to a glorious era for one of the best lineman in club history had arrived.

    Larry Allen, an eight-time Pro Bowler, was being shopped around just before the draft. He visited the Lions and Raiders, but when he wasn't willing to make major changes to his contract, any and all trade possibilities eventually disappeared.

    Then, in a miraculous turnaround, Allen and head coach Bill Parcells seemed to patched up the differences they had last season. And those issues mainly involved Allen's conditioning, which seemingly has vastly improved over last season.

    If Allen can keep his weight down and his stamina up, Parcells and the Cowboys can expect the left guard to return for his 11th season.



    And when Allen is on his game, it certainly helps his partner to the left, tackle Flozell Adams, who enjoyed a career season last year. Adams, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract last off-season, earned every penny in 2003, proficiently protecting Quincy Carter's blind side and earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

    If Allen is there, coupled with Adams, the left side of the line gives the Cowboys a strong side to run behind, just as they've had for so many years in the past.

    But questions marks aplenty pop up when moving further right along the offensive line.

    Take the center position, where it appeared the Cowboys would enter training camp with three players battling for the starting job. However, an injury to veteran Gennaro DiNapoli will hurt his chances to compete for that starting job. DiNapoli suffered a stress fracture in his right ankle towards the end of the June mini-camp, and his four-to-six week rehab will likely run into the first week of training camp.

    That gives an advantage to both Al Johnson and Tyson Walter, who actually went into last year's camp competing for the same job. As it turned out, Johnson needed only a week to surpass Walter and Matt Lehr for the starting position at center.

    However, soon after taking over, Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury, which required microfracture surgery just two weeks into camp.

    Walter was eventually replaced at center by Matt Lehr, who started all 16 games a year ago. Lehr split some time over the first seven games with DiNapoli, but then took over for good when the veteran backup was lost for the year with a high ankle sprain.

    As for Lehr, he's been moved to guard for now. Although Parcells said in June if neither of the three centers emerge as a surefire starter, he knows what he has in Lehr and that he could return as the starting center.



    But Cowboys' preference would be for Johnson to outright win the job, and for that to happen, Johnson must prove he's fully recovered from a knee surgery which has proven to be a difficult recovery for lineman.

    The early returns, though, seem favorable. Johnson was able to participate in the mini-camps, and he'll just have to knock off the rust this summer since he hasn't played in an actual game since the end of his final season (2002) at Wisconsin.

    Walter might not win a starting job, but he can be a valuable commodity, having the ability to play all five positions, if needed. He's probably best suited to play center/guard in the NFL.

    At right guard, Andre Gurode is expected to return to his starting spot. He started 15 games last year, but was benched by Parcells in Philadelphia to get his attention after committing too many mental errors in previous games. Gurode led the team in pre-snap penalties, but his size and strength should be good enough to keep him in the starting lineup if he's up to speed with his assignments.

    But the second-round pick in 2002 might feel some heat from rookie Stephen Peterman, a third-round pick from LSU. Some Cowboys officials call Peterman a "nasty" player who is tough enough to handle the tribulations of being a rookie.

    Now moving down the line to right tackle, where the Cowboys had two players start eight games apiece at the position last year. But neither - at this point - is among the three-man competition for the starting job.

    Ryan Young started eight games a year ago, but couldn't overcome chronic knee injuries, which led to his release this March and will likely end his career. Kurt Vollers started the remaining eight games at right tackle, but the Cowboys have decided to move him to the left side to back up Adams. In a similar situation to Lehr, Parcells knows what Vollers can do at right tackle, and wants to get a better feel for three young players. Plus, the Cowboys must develop a legitimate backup to Adams.

    So for the start of training camp, the three young players Parcells will evaluate at right tackle are second-round draft choice Jacob Rogers, second-year lineman Torrin Tucker and fourth-year veteran Javiar Collins. Rogers, the former Southern Cal standout, played three years at left tackle, but the Cowboys drafted him 52nd overall with the hopes he could make the transition to the right side.

    However, Rogers might not be ready this year, meaning Tucker, who still needs some polishing himself, could be asked to start this year. He played guard in college and spent last year making the adjustment to tackle. Tucker played in seven games, earning a start against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving.

    The Cowboys will also give Collins another chance to win a starting spot. Entering his fourth year in the NFL, Collins spent all of last season on the 53-man roster, but was inactive for every games.

    Other lineman to keep an eye on include Tango McCauley, one of the best players in the Canadian Football League (CFL) last year, and DeMingo Graham, a five-year veteran who has 27 career starts.

    (Next: Tight End)

    FITTING IN

    Offensive Tackles:

    Flozell Adams: Coming off best season of his career, earning a Pro Bowl spot. He benefits from having Allen next to him. Another Pro Bowl season might make him one of the NFL's elite tackles.

    Jacob Rogers: A superb left tackle in college, Rogers now has to make the switch to the right side, and do it quickly. He might not start on opening day, but don't be surprised if he ends up there this year.

    Torrin Tucker: Still learning the position, but he might be more polished than Rogers right now. The Cowboys obviously liked what they saw from Tucker last year. He'll get plenty of looks.

    Kurt Vollers: Probably asking himself why he's not getting the chance to start at right tackle, like he did eight times last year. But Parcells knows Vollers' game, and needs a stable backup to Adams.

    Javiar Collins: Likely his last chance to do something. This is his fourth season, so Collins must come on strong in training camp or he might not make it to the regular season.

    Dave Volk: Spent the last two years on the practice squad, but played well at guard in NFL Europe. Volk might end up playing guard and tackle in camp, but he can't end up on the practice squad again.

    Darrick Sanders: Undrafted rookie dominated at Division III Arkansas-Monticello. He's got the size, but does he have the technique and footwork to play well in the NFL?

    Guards/Centers:

    Larry Allen: Looked like a goner in April. Now he's back, and looks to be in his best condition in several years. Some people around Valley Ranch have wondered out loud if Allen "finally gets it."

    Matt Lehr: Started all 16 games at center last year, but has been moved to guard. Has played both positions in three years with the club. Still, his best chance to start will be at center if one of the three candidates fails to materialize.

    Al Johnson: The Cowboys have their fingers crossed he can return from the season-ending knee surgery his rookie year. The former second-round pick is the favorite to win the starting job.

    Andre Gurode: Parcells stays on his case constantly, and that might be the way to get Gurode motivated. He was benched for a game last year because of penalties. But Gurode still has the talent to be a great player.

    Stephen Peterman: This rookie might get the chance to play right away, and will likely push Gurode for a starting job. What he might lack in athleticism, he makes up for with toughness and strength.

    Tyson Walter: Considered one of the smartest players on the team. Walter can play all five positions on the line, and that alone makes him a valuable backup, even if he doesn't start at center.

    Gennaro DiNapoli: Stress fracture in his right ankle might hurt his chances to compete with Johnson and Walter for the starting center job. He can play both guard and center, which is valuable to Parcells.

    Tango McCauley: The Cowboys gave McCauley a $100,000 signing bonus in the off-season. That's at least one reason why he'll get an opportunity to earn a roster spot.

    DeMingo Graham: A five-year veteran, Graham was out of football last year, but the Cowboys are hoping he can provide some depth at either guard or tackle.

    Thomas Herrion: Was invited to the rookie camp as a "workout" player, but showed enough in three days to get a call back and a contract. The 320-pounder has nice footwork for his size.
  2. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    And it's not the norm in the NFL.

    The majority of teams prefer running to their right side, the strongside of the formation where the tight end and best run blockers usually reside.

    It's an area I've always thought gave the Cowboys an advantage over opponents accustomed to looking for the run on the strongside.

    And with center Al Johnson well ahead of schedule, Dallas should find more success running the ball on the left side this year, IMO.

    The question is how much success they will have when venturing to the unknown regions on the right side.

    Most of us were shocked at the price Dallas paid to retain Flo and pleasantly surprised when he lived up to the contract and parcells' coaching methods.

    As Parcells said, Adams can be as good as he wants to be, it just comes down to how much fire he has in his lobby.

    Big Bill praised the Hotel for making runs and doing other things he's never been able to before during the off-season. Adams may have developed a taste for success and being the leader on the line. Good for us, bad for the NFL.

    I expect Rogers to eventually challenge to start, I just don't know if he'll be ready as a rookie. Not only does Jake have to learn how to do everything backwards after playing on the left side, he also needs to increase his strength to properly handle the physical demands of the strongside.

    At the least, Rogers will provide superb depth on both sides while adjusting to his new position and he may prove ready for the job as a rookie.

    Bill Parcells came off as a big Tucker fan during the season last year when speaking about him during media sessions. Tucker, who was a standout in the off-season program, now has the necessary power to go along with his prototype size and mean streak for the position.

    I'm expecting big things from Tuck Everlasting.

    Because you're limited, Kurt, and best suited to be a back-up tackle.

    And there's nothing wrong with that, depth with starting experience is a beautiful thing, IMO.

    Once touted prospect fell out of the team's plans with the new staff in place. I don't think Javy will beat out Vollers for the final tackle spot and he'll become someone else's developmental project.

    Camp body.

    Listed as a tackle in the article, but everything else considers him a guard. A nice developmental player with a good chance at practice squad duty if he flashes some potential during camp.

    I'm guessing they don't wonder out loud when Big Stinky is at the Ranch.

    I really expected LA to buy into having tough coaching and he was a one man (be it 350 lbs) mutiny. Both sides probably could've handles the situation better, but they finally butted heads after the draft and seemingly settled things.

    I don't know how much of his old dominance Allen can regain and he's no longer the best lineman on the team, but I don't doubt a healthy LA can get the job done between Flo and Johnson.

    Lehr is limited starting at center and his best value is as an interior reserve.

    If an unknown or newbie impresses, Lehr may be shown the door, but the DiNapoli injury increases his current value.

    Johnson has already returned.

    He was on the field practicing during mini-camp, not a medical red shirt on the sideline.

    Johnson proclaimed the knee was at 95% during the mini-camp, so it shouldn't be a problem once camp arrives and the staff can always limit his early practice reps to protect the joint.

    Johnson's going to start and he's a major upgrade over what the position offered after his injury.

    I don't question Gurode's talent.

    I just don't know what to make of the player I expected big things from last year and watched benched during the game that decided the NFC East.

    Please figure things out and let your talent shine through G, an option now exists behind you.

    Love that reputed mean streak.

    I badly want Gurode to get his head in the game, but it would be interesting to see Peterman on the field between Johnson and Tucker, two other linemen with noted mean streaks for the game.

    I really liked what I saw and read about Walter as a rookie.

    But with the increased depth along the line, I don't know if Walter's overall versatility and smarts will be enough to punch his ticket again.

    Parcells does crave such versatility, however, so we'll see what happens. DiNapoli's injury will also give Walter every opportunity to impress the staff early in camp.

    I expected DiNapoli to look better this camp due to being in shape and knowing the offense, factors that held him back after his late addition a year ago.

    Now, Nappy's suffered an injury setback and might need to adjust his goals to making sure he makes the team as a reserve over challenging Johnson in the pivot.

    Coming from the CFL, McCauley should be well versed in pass protection and more of an unknown in run blocking.

    The final one or two spots should be wide open and Tango's just as good a guess as any other.

    Graham will likely serve as an insurance policy in case another player goes dwon with an injury during camp. Likely the kind of player Parcells would like to release at the end of camp and keep on speed dial.

    He should be fun to cheer for, but it's likely practice squad or bust for the undrafted rookie.
  3. tuls

    tuls New Member

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    It amazes me that they allow this guy to write articles...
  4. Hollywood Henderson

    Hollywood Henderson Benched

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    Good stuff again BlueFin...

    It all begins up front and hopefully we can avoid injury's here. If so we could get in a grove in preseason, where even our depth now has starting NFL experence...

    That should also help the 2nd team offense stay on the field and gain confidence during preseason!

    Finally some interesting things to look forward to on that side of the ball...

    Now if AB can just keep his emotions in check and we can get a consistant starter at QB...
  5. ghettogandhi

    ghettogandhi Member

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    best Depth In The League

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