The Cowboys have moved left guard La’el Collins to right tackle, giving him a shot to win the job vacated by Doug Free. While the Cowboys caution things could change before the season opener in September, Collins relishes the opportunity to move back to tackle.
“Oh, man, it’s awesome actually,” Collins said during the team’s 13th annual Taste of the NFL to tackle childhood hunger. “I actually forgot how good it felt to be out on the edge, to kind of be out there on an island. Right now we’re not doing too much, just kind of working plays against the air. That’s about it. But it feels good.”
Collins, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015, started at left guard his sophomore season at LSU before moving to left tackle his final two seasons in Baton Rouge. He began his pro career at right tackle as a rookie in the Cowboys’ off-season program while Doug Free was rehabbing from off-season surgery.
Free retired after the 2016 season, ending a 10-year career and leaving big cleats to fill.
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“That’s huge pressure. That’s a lot of pressure,” said Collins, who has 14 career starts. “You’re out on that island. Doug was overlooked a lot, but Doug was a hell of a player, man. Ten years in the game. Even though he was hurt — you know he was hurting — he always said he felt great. That’s one thing you learn from an older guy like that and respect that. He was a great player, man.”
The Cowboys signed veteran tackle Byron Bell in free agency. Bell started 72 games in his first five seasons before missing all of last season with an ankle injury. At some point, they will see the return of tackle Chaz Green, who underwent back surgery in December. Green was a third-round pick in 2015.
For now, though, right tackle is Collins’ job to lose with Jonathan Cooper getting the first shot at left guard.
“I just kind of feel like I can play anywhere,” Collins said. “I feel like I can play all positions other than center. I don’t know if I can do that. Travis [Frederick] has got a tough job. It’s harder than it looks. I really feel like I can play anywhere.
“I have the mentality of I don’t care where I’m at, whoever’s in front of me I’m going to move them off the ball and that’s how it’s going to be. That’s the way I feel.”
Collins said he has gained muscle, lost weight and gotten stronger. He has lost 4 percent body fat, down to 18 percent, and gained 5 percent muscle.
“Head down, just working, man,” Collins said. “That’s what my life has consisted of ever since I got hurt. I actually turned it into an off-season. Been working, man. Been putting the work in.”
Collins played only three games last season, going on injured reserve after undergoing surgery on his right big toe. Collins said the toe now is 100 percent. He tapes the toe and wears plates in both shoes for added protection.
“It was tough,” Collins said of last season. “Anytime guys you go to work with on an everyday basis, not being able to be part of that, really, really, really hurt. For me, now it’s like I can’t wait. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get out there with my teammates and just go and give them everything I got. I will never take a day for granted. Ever.”
Ron Leary returned to the starting lineup for the final 13 games last season, but Leary signed with the Broncos in the off-season.