There is no question that coming to the Dallas Cowboys was a dream come true for offensive line coach Paul Alexander.
After coaching the previous 23 seasons in relative obscurity with the Cincinnati Bengals, he was looking for a change.
And to join a team like the Cowboys, with three first-round picks among four first-round talents on a line that has already been considered the best in the league, Alexander has seeming died and gone to line coach heaven.
"In my lifetime, I'm 58, this is the best opportunity for a line coach that has ever opened in the National Football League," Alexander said. "When it opened, Coach Garrett called me. I was at home. I answered the phone. I knew his number. And I said, 'Coach Garrett, I was hoping you'd call me!'
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"It worked out great. I came down and the next day I had a job. It was wonderful."
While Alexander wanted to come to the Cowboys, it appears the Cowboys needed him just as much.
The Cowboys have proven performers up front with left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick having a combined 13 Pro Bowl appearances to go along with right tackle La’el Collins, who may be the nastiest and most physical player of the entire group.
But the line took a step back last season because of injuries to Smith and a lack of depth.
It’s one reason they drafted former Texas star Connor Williams in the second round to fill in at left guard while also signing tackle Cameron Martin in free agency
But it’s also why they fired line coach Frank Pollack and replaced him with Alexander.
The Cowboys wanted a new voice with new ideas and new techniques.
“He’s really an interesting guy because he’s been in one place for a long time, but he’s worked with a lot of different coordinators,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “So he’s been exposed to a lot of different schemes in football, a lot of different techniques. So he really has a broad range of knowledge about this position. He’s a really, really good teacher.”
It also helps that he is a little quirky.
Alexander, as he wrote in his book “Perform” in 2011, judges his players by how they squeeze the Heinz 57 ketchup bottle.
Alexander says “57” is on the bottle to signify where to squeeze it to make the ketchup flow out freely.
If a lineman pounds the bottom of the bottle, Alexander believes they are more suited for defense. He wants his guys working smarter.
"That's what line play is," Alexander explained. "You're figuring out little tricks, little ways to do it. Typically, they are a little better athlete than you are and usually your job is a little harder than just covering your gap or whatever, so you need tricks”
Alexander hasn’t yet asked given the Cowboys line the ketchup test.
But Frederick already has the mentality of getting it out smartly even if he doesn’t squeeze the numbers.
“I did know that,” Frederick said of the 57 test. “But that is not how I do it. There are others ways to do it. You get it at an angle and wave it back and forth the ketchup will come out.”
Frederick says he and his teammates are ready and willing to learn.
“We want to be best we can be,” Frederick said “We want to absorb as much info as we can. We know he has different ideas and different ways of doing it. It’s a matter of blending some of that stuff in and taking some of the new stuff, particularly in pass protection He has a different way of doing it. So we are just learning that and trying figure out how that best suits us.
And that’s how Alexander it handling it. He is allowing them to figure out what works best, at least with the veterans.
“On different blocks, I’m saying, ‘OK, you’ve done it this way, let’s try it this way and you tell me what you like better,’” he said. “The young guys, (it’s) ‘No, you’re doing it this way.’ But some of the guys who have been really successful, I’m going to take that away from the guy. That’s kind of the approach we’ve had.
“It’s been great. I love the meetings. They’re smart. They know how to play. They work really hard.”
Alexander is simply loving the situation he’s in and has told his players how much he appreciates the opportunity to coach them.
"To me, it's like I've gone to Heaven," Alexander said. "It's the most beautiful football situation I've ever been in. They're smart, they're good, they want to get better, they work hard. I told them after the first day: 'Guys, thank you for letting me coach you.'
"A lot of times you go into a place with good players and they're not going to want to listen to you. But [these players] are very eager."
He wanted them.
But they needed him.
“Coach Alexander’s a really smart guy. You can tell that he’s been doing this for a long time,” Frederick said. “He continues to try and teach us those things that he’s bringing in, just trying to give us new tools for our toolbox and help some of these younger guys get up to speed.”