Monday, August 29, 2011

The Offensive Line Will Be Even Younger This Season

The speculation started on Saturday when Andre Gurode was held out of the 3rd preseason game based on a "business decision". And now it is official. The Dallas Cowboys have released Andre Gurode. In the process of just a few weeks the Cowboys have gone from one of the oldest offensive lines in the league to one of the youngest.

So the Cowboys have cut Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, and now Andre Gurode. All of them were aging overprice veterans but the release of Gurode was somewhat surprising considering he had made it this far into the preseason.

Gurode's last minute knee surgery this offseason probably cost him his job. While he stood around watching practice for the first two weeks of camp Phil Costa was impressing the coaches with his play filling in as the center with the first team offensive line. Costa was so good it made the coaches realize that there really was no drop off at center with Costa filling in. In fact, Costa showed athleticism and quickness that Gurode no longer possesses after his 10 years in the league.

There are a lot of doom and gloomers lamenting the fact that this has turned into a rebuilding season. I completely disagree. What is going on is a change in philosophy mixed with some cap restructuring. Anyone who has seen the Cowboys offense in action at training camp can tell you that screens are going to be heavily used this season. No longer will the Cowboys go with the bigger is better offensive line and try to maul the opposition into submission with their offensive line. That approach hasn't worked the last few years anyway.

By going younger the Cowboys will be a much better screen team because the younger players can get out in front of the ball carrier more effectively since they are so much quicker. So far there doesn't seem to be a sacrifice in the running game due to going smaller and cheaper. Pass protection is a major concern for me at this point. There will undoubtedly be protection break downs this season due to the inexperience of the offensive line. The hope is that the offense will be more diversified thereby keeping the opposing defenses from playing in attack mode on every play.

Tyron Smith doesn't seem to be too much of a concern at right tackle. He has been solid this preseason but he still has a long way to go before he is a dominant player. But he seems better than what the Cowboys had a right tackle last year already and he will only get better with experience.

Bill Nagy is going to start at left guard. Normally I would say no problem because it is easy to hide the flaws of a guard since they have help on both sides of them. But with a young center now starting next to him Nagy won't have that safety net. So he has to be ready now. I think he still needs to work on his strength and I fear that he might get overpowered by some of the stronger defensive linemen the Cowboys will face.

Phil Costa is in his second year with the team. Normally that would mean he would have had an offseason with the strength and conditioning program to build up his strength. But with the lockout he missed out on that opportunity. And now he is sitting out likely until a few days before the season opener with a sprained PCL. That is certainly concerning considering his lack of experience and the missed time for the offensive line to gel as a unit.

From a salary cap perspective these moves make a lot of sense. The Cowboys have overpaid for high priced free agents for the last few years and it has finally come to a head. Not only did they have to cut salary just to make it under the cap this year but they also have a lot of dead money counting against the cap next year thanks to those bad contracts. Going young is a great move as long as the young guys are actually ready to play. Time will tell if the massive overhaul of the offensive line was a good thing or a bad thing. It certainly seems like a good move in the long term. The hope is that there isn't a sacrifice in the short term.

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