About this time last year, I was writing about how the Dallas Cowboys could have a better offensive line than they had in 2016. The reasoning went, the move of La’el Collins to right tackle was the proper one and Jonathan Cooper could live up to the potential of his draft status next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Perhaps the only issue I may have overlooked was the loss of Doug Free. He was the leader of the offensive line and the void he left was felt the entire season. For all the complaining about his play, he was not easily replaced by the Cowboys and it was a big part of the reason the line didn’t live up to expectations last year.
It also didn’t help that Smith wasn’t fully healthy for the majority of the season. His absence and health concerns were a big piece of the underperforming puzzle in 2017.
Now, it’s a new year and there are new expectations for the offensive line. This should be a group that will dominate up front again. Dallas needed to upgrade and re-tool for 2018, and they did just that.
The biggest need for the Cowboys was addressed when they drafted Connor Williams in the second round. Cooper played admirably at left guard last season, but Williams should provide instant improvement. Williams brings the strength, athleticism and technical ability to be the next great offensive lineman in Dallas.
Another year at right tackle should benefit La’el Collins as well. He played tackle in college, but playing it in the NFL is another story. There was a learning curve for the former LSU standout and even though he played well last season, he should only get better heading into his second full year at right tackle.
The team also recognized a major weakness at swing tackle and upgraded by signing Cameron Fleming to solve the problem. Fleming, 25, started 20 games in four years for the New England Patriots at both tackle positions and he will be a better option than what the ‘Boys had last year if either Collins or Smith went down this season. This will help avoid repeating the disaster that occurred last year, Fleming is better than Chaz Green or Byron Bell.
Of course, the best reality is that Tyron Smith stays healthy all season. Thankfully, Smith has mentioned this offseason his back is feeling better than it has in a long time. Smith is one of the players the team can ill afford to lose for any long period of time, his health is one of the main factors in how well the offense plays.
The rest of the group remains intact and elite. Travis Frederick and Zack Martin are in the prime of their careers and the team brought in Marcus Martin to add depth inside. Also an upgrade.
Overall, this group has the look of a much better unit than last season’s offensive line. There is more versatility, depth, and talent. For a team that wants to run the ball and control the clock, the Cowboys need them to return to their dominant ways.
The Dallas Cowboys have a young quarterback they need to protect and a stud running back they run their offense through, the offensive line’s play is essential to their success. It’s why they made every effort to improve the unit this offseason.
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