At the completion of the 2011 season, offensive line coach Hudson Houck retired. In walked Bill Callahan to take over that role, as well as assist Jason Garrett in coordinating the offense.
Although Callahan will have the daunting task of improving this offensive line to keep Tony Romo off of the turf and out of the trainer's room, I feel the move to get him was both significant and necessary.
Callahan's job is simple, right? All he has to do is place five players on the field that can protect the quarterback, open up holes for DeMarco Murray and function as a cohesive unit. That doesn't sound so simple. But if the Cowboys are going to have any success in 2012, the offensive line will have major implications in dictating the course of the season.
With plenty of work to accomplish and looming competition on the horizon once training camp begins, the Cowboys are at least set with Tyron Smith and Doug Free at the tackle positions. The rest of the unit consists of holdovers Kevin Kowalski, David Arkin, Bill Nagy and Phil Costa, and when free agency started in March, Dallas was quick to ink free agent guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau.
The Cowboys failed to select any offensive lineman in the draft in April, but it was quite peculiar that Jerry Jones was gushing about the fact that they had reached an agreement with rookie free agent guard Ron Leary. Sure, the Cowboys added other undrafted lineman like Jeff Adams and Levy Adcock, but being able to land Leary should and will prove to be a major coup for the Cowboys.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Callahan even worked out Leary himself, and it was widely speculated that he would be an eventual draft pick of the Cowboys. Leary was a starter for four years at Memphis but fell off of many draft boards due to a knee condition deemed to be degenerative.
But apparently the Cowboys couldn't help themselves by taking a chance on him even if he proves to be a solid short-term solution with long-term risks. Leary, at 6'3" and 315 pounds, possesses great size and power with solid technique and versatility. It's no wonder why he was projected as an early to middle-round draft pick, and it's logical to see that the Cowboys value him as an extra draft pick.
The way the anticipated lineup is rounding into form, Smith and Free are the bookend tackles. Livings would most likely be the left guard next to Smith, Bernadeau would man the other guard position and center would come down to a battle of who wants it between Costa, Kowalski and Nagy.
Not a bad unit and certainly an upgrade from 2011, but here is the rub—Bernadeau required hip surgery in May and will be on the shelf for 10 to 12 weeks. So what does this mean? Enter Ron Leary, the potential ace in the hole.
During recent OTA sessions, Leary was practicing with the first team at right guard and was quite impressive despite the fact that pads were not present and contact was minimal. He displayed great movement while showing no ill effects of his potential knee problems.
If Leary can continue to impress the coaches and display a solid performance during training camp and the preseason, then the Cowboys win in two ways. They have a candidate that can either start as a rookie or provide instant depth, and the Cowboys gain major flexibility along the line. This will allow Callahan to experiment with combinations amongst the group of interior lineman in order to have the best players on the field.
Accomplishing that goal will be paramount in not only getting those best players on the field, but it will be the basis for game-planning and allowing the Cowboys to maximize their playbook. Good line play equals good results, and bad line play, well, we all know what happens.
The other factor with Leary, and maybe the most important one, is the financial commitment Jerry Jones made to this player. They will be paying Leary $390,000, of which $205,000 is guaranteed. Sound like a player that won't make the roster?
Let's recap the facts here for a second. Leary goes from successful college player and highly regarded prospect to undrafted free agent who will not only have to prove his doubters wrong but will also have to prove himself right.
Sounds like a player I wouldn't bet against. It also sounds like the Cowboys just found themselves a potential ace.