When it comes to offensive linemen, more is always better as far as the Cowboys are concerned.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough of them,” Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said Monday during the team’s pre-draft press conference, “and Mike [McCarthy, head coach] would agree with that. We should be drafting one, you’d like to hope, in the top three or four rounds every year.”
Dallas made it their No. 1 priority last year, taking Tulsa’s Tyler Smith with the 24th pick. All the rookie did in return was step in for an eight-time Pro Bowler and lead the entire team in snaps for the season.
So forgive the Cowboys brain trust if they lean toward getting right back in that line with the 26th overall pick this weekend.
Even with perennial All-Pro Zack Martin, the impressive Tyler Smith, a returning Tyron Smith, up-and-comer Terence Steele, and a very solid Tyler Biadasz, the Cowboys admit they still have a need up front.
“You look at Cincinnati last year, where they were trying to struggle through the injuries,” Jones added. “You look at Kansas City over the years, trying to get through the injuries. We had our share of injuries last year, of course, with Steele and Tyron missing quite a bit of time. You can’t have enough of those guys. That’s why we do put a premium on drafting them.”
Dallas indeed had to scramble to put together a front five for much of the season. Tyron Smith missed the start of the season with a hamstring tear; he hasn’t played a full campaign since 2015. Matt Farniok and Matt Waletzko were both lost to season-ending injured reserve in October. Steele suffered a major knee injury in December. Josh Ball, who had sat out his 2021 rookie season on IR, came in for Steele and foundered badly.
Connor McGovern, though injured himself, was asked to do a lot at multiple positions- some not even on the offensive line- but he’s in Buffalo now.
So yes, plan on Dallas calling a big, beefy lineman at some point this weekend.
But that’s not to say they’re putting all their chips on finding another plug-and-play starter like Tyler Smith.
Despite his disastrous debut versus Houston, third-year man Ball will be expanding his role for the team. McCarthy confirmed that he’d play “guard and both tackles” in 2023.
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He’s not the only young lineman the coach is expecting to see step up this year; McCarthy told reporters he feels “great” about both Ball and Waletzko.
“Matt’s having a great offseason. He obviously had the surgery, so he’s knocking it out of the park there. And Josh, I think, clearly, will work more inside than out. He does a tremendous job in the offseason program, things like that. I’m excited to see those guys play in the preseason. They’re ready. We’ve just got to get them battle-tested. They’re making all the progress you look for in his your second- or third-[year] players. They’re right on schedule.”
So the numbers are coming back around for the Cowboys and new offensive line coach Mike Solari. But the reality is, the line likely won’t be at full strength for long.
“It’s just inherent that you’re going to have injuries in that area,” Jones explained. “So consequently, you like to have, in a perfect world, eight or nine guys that you feel comfortable going in the game. But they’re all protecting big-time assets. We all see what people are paying quarterbacks these days. Those guys up front have the biggest responsibility of keeping them upright.”
Looked at through that lens, it seems like a lock that Dallas will add another lineman or two to help protect their $40 million man, Dak Prescott.
The question is, when will they turn in that card?
Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright may be there late in the first round. The gargantuan Dawand Jones out of Ohio State and Alabama’s Tyler Steen are other possible options in the first two rounds.
As for guards, O’Cyrus Torrence out of Florida and TCU’s Steve Avila look to be early picks, as well as North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch.
“You trust in your process,” McCarthy concluded.
So far, the process for the Cowboys seems to be constantly restocking the shelves at offensive line… maybe sooner rather than later, given the recent roster shuffles there in Dallas.