As the Cowboys embarked on training camp, there didn't appear to be an open competition for the center position. The Cowboys were trying to find adequate depth and flexibility for the position, but they were forced to use David Arkin and Harland Gunn after Phil Costa sustained his back injury.
However, the original plan appeared to be that it was Costa's job all along.
But opening night changed everything and now, since then, we've learned more than a few things. We learned that Cook did a nice job filling in for Costa after he left so early in the contest and held up nicely over the course of the game. We also learned that Costa could miss some significant time as a result of this back issue. The MRI results were negative, but back injuries can be complex.
If the Cowboys really like Costa, which appears to be the case, then he's no use to the offense unless he's healthy. His injury at the onset of the game was probably a result of him trying to come back too early. Consequently, the door has swung open for the 6'5", 325-pound Cook to take on an integral role in the offense.
Cook has nice size, as opposed to Costa, and he presents the Cowboys with some versatility along the offensive line. When you start looking at Costa's struggles with snaps last season, it's still hard to conceive how the Cowboys ignored this problem in the offseason. Cook's performance on opening night should immediately open the possibility for a competition.
For someone who was recently acquired, Cook did a solid job of learning the line calls and what the Cowboys wanted to do conceptually. Learning the nuances of the offense and certain communication aspects will come, but for the most part, Cook responded well for getting pressed into duty. Based on these facts alone, the Cowboys have to seriously consider Cook as a challenger for the full-time center position.
One thing that could be pointed out as a negative in the Cowboys' victory were the penalties that occurred, and more specifically, the ones of the pre-snap variety. There were five false starts that squarely fall on the shoulders of the offensive line, but this unit has not had any sort of continuity for any length of time.
Cook’s unfamiliarity could've played a big part in these penalties, but what more could be asked of him in a difficult situation. Cook showed the smarts, the physical ability and mental preparation necessary to handle the big-game pressure of an NFC East showdown. It was no easy task, but Cook survived and the Cowboys won the game.
Cowboys fans are familiar with what Phil Costa can do as a player when healthy. He's gone through some struggles, he's taken a heap of criticism and has been able to persevere through it all. He's a young player that has a certain amount of upside, but he also needs to improve. Ryan Cook might not be ready for first-team all-pro status, but I think he presents more than a significant challenge to Costa.
If Jason Garrett really wants to create competition throughout the roster as a means of improving it, then that rule should apply just as much during the season as it does during the offseason.
For Ryan Cook and Phil Costa, that rule should apply right now. Based on Tony Romo's performance, the only way he can sustain that level of play is if the right person is at the center position.
The Cowboys' opening-night victory changed all that.
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