Cowboys’ stout offensive line has draft to thank

08/04/2014 9:27 PM

11/12/2014 7:27 PM

They don’t put up gaudy stats. They don’t practice touchdown dances. They don’t see their jerseys in the stands.

Offensive linemen, after all, are boring compared to quarterbacks, receivers or running backs.

But they can’t make plays without the line giving them time or space. The Dallas Cowboys understand that and have turned their attention the past few years to building in the trenches.

It appears Jerry Jones heard something about this being a good move. He had never drafted an offensive lineman in the first round until 2009 when he took Tyron Smith. He’s since used two more first-rounders on offensive linemen.

It has paid off for the Cowboys, as they have the makings of one of the best O-lines in football.

It could stay that way for the foreseeable future. All three first-round picks are only 23 — left tackle Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin — and poised to form the line’s long-term core.

Smith is under contract for the next decade, Frederick for at least three more years and Martin for at least four.

“We really feel in a lot of ways the offensive line is the heartbeat of the football team,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look back at some of the great teams in the history of this league and the history of this franchise, there were always great offensive linemen and great offensive line units.

“We’ve made a very conscious effort as a franchise and organization to do that and we feel like we’re starting to see that group really develop and become the strength of this football team.”

Smith, Frederick and Martin are joined by right tackle Doug Free, the most veteran of the group at age 30, and the right guard position will come down to Ronald Leary (25) or Mackenzy Bernadeau (28).

The talent level on the line has been evident so far in training camp. It’s not uncommon to see Smith need only one hand to block a rusher on the edge or Frederick block a 300-pounder with ease on the inside.

Just ask defensive tackle Nick Hayden, who goes up against them daily.

“Oh, yeah, they definitely have a lot of talent up there,” Hayden said. “It’s definitely going to be a good O-line, which is good for us. We’re not going to face many better lines than this throughout the year, so it’s going to make us better and better.”

The O-line made significant strides last year and it showed in the numbers. The Cowboys were the fifth-highest scoring team in the league, Tony Romo put up solid numbers and DeMarco Murray had his first 1,000-yard rushing season.

Smith established himself as one of the top left tackles in the game, and Frederick emerged as one of the game’s best centers as a rookie. Free, meanwhile, bounced back after a couple down years and Leary proved to be a capable starter.

They are expected to take another step this year with Martin joining the group.

“Aside from the point that we have three first-round picks on our line, this can be a very good offensive line,” Frederick said. “It’s a really good group of guys both on the field and off the field. That allows us to come together as a group and play better as a group and adjust better as a group.”

Frederick talked about how close the offensive line unit has become away from the field. They do nearly everything together, from dinners to walking out to the practice field at the same time.

Frederick said during off-season workouts, the O-line would get in at 6:30 a.m. for workouts rather than pushing them off until the afternoon.

They all pull for each other. All were genuinely excited for Smith when he signed his $110 million contract extension last week.

There wasn’t even a mention of making Smith pick up that night’s dinner tab.

“When we go out to dinner, we all do our own thing,” Frederick said. “I’m super happy for Tyron. He deserves every single penny.

“Our group is as close as I’ve ever seen a group be. I think that’s very important because it’s a five-person group, everything has to be done together.”

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