Dallas Cowboys

Uneven personal season still carries Leary to playoffs as a starter

From a personal standpoint, this has been an uneven season for Ron Leary.

Pegged to be the starting left guard for the Dallas Cowboys this season, Leary was hampered by a groin injury and ultimately lost that job in preseason to La’el Collins.

But when Collins injured his right great toe during the third game of the season against the Chicago Bears and was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery, Leary was able to get his starting job back.

Thus, the four-year veteran has started every game from Week 4 — other than the Cowboys’ regular-season finale at Philadelphia on Jan. 1, when the team rested many of its starters because the game didn’t affect their playoff position.

“It’s been a season full of different types of emotions. It’s been a crazy season,” Leary said. “I’m just glad to be back playing ball, though.”

Leary could be in his final days with the Cowboys. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound lineman becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season and wants to continue being a starter.

But the eventual return of Collins next season could derail those efforts.

Leary sat out voluntary team activities last off-season once he demanded a trade, and was paid $2.553 million this season after he signed his restricted free agent tender before last April’s draft.

But Leary has maintained a positive attitude.

“I just pray about it and I kind of let that thing handle itself out,’’ Leary said. “I just go out there and just play ball.’’

Leary and his linemates haven’t been distracted by his role this season.

“He’s been awesome all year,’’ All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said of Leary. “He’s come in the exact same way we would expect him to come in and play, just like he has been in the past.

“He’s been great. He’s gotten better and he’s a great guy to have in there.’’

The Cowboys finished this season fifth in total yards (376.7 yards) and second in rushing (149.8 yards). The offensive line is considered the best in the league.

“We hear that talk, but we also know that they’re saying we’re the best now,’’ Leary said. “But if we go out there and have one bad game, then all of a sudden we’re the most overrated O-line ever.

“We kind of don’t buy into that and just go out and play our best every week.’’

Leary also doesn’t buy into observers who say anybody can rush for 1,500 yards behind the Cowboys’ offensive line. He credits rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott — who led the NFL in rushing this season with 1,631 yards — for being a force that has blossomed right out of college.

“He makes our job look a lot easy,’’ Leary said. “If you watch film, there’s a lot of times where we’re not all the way clean on blocks, but he’ll hit that hole.

“He makes us look a lot better than what we are, so blocking for a guy like Zeke is great.’’

All-Pro center Travis Frederick, who lines up directly to Leary’s left, has watched the University of Memphis product become a source of energy.

“Ron’s a tremendous asset to our offensive line because of the person that he is, and the way that he plays, and the way that he works,’’ Frederick said. “It’s been fun growing up with him over the last four years.

“I remember doing rookie mini-camp with him — it was his second year in, but he had done that. You can see how much he has grown throughout the last few years and how great of a player he is, so he’s certainly a great asset to our group.’’

The Cowboys host a divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Leary puts no stock in the fact that the Cowboys have a decided advantage because they beat the Packers in Green Bay, 30-16, on Oct. 16.

“I think we know each other pretty well, but we also know that this playoff game is totally different from a regular-season game,’’ Leary said.

“We know they’re going to make some new wrinkles, and we’re going to have some new wrinkles, too.’’

Dwain Price: 817-390-7760, @dwainprice

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