Despite changes, Cowboys' O-line should still be elite

DALLAS - The Cowboys offensive line is missing two big pieces.

Literally.

Dallas lost two of its five starters from last season, with right tackle Doug Free retiring and left guard Ronald Leary leaving for Denver in free agency. Leary spent the first five seasons of his career with the Cowboys, while Free was in Dallas the entirety of his 10-year career.

So where does that leave what many consider to be the best offensive line in the NFL?

Well, they're still in pretty good shape.

Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick are all returning to anchor what should be another elite line. Each of the trio of Smith, Martin, and Frederick are in the running for best player at their respective positions in the league. Those three are as rock solid as it gets.

The new right tackle appears to be La'el Collins. Collins is returning from a toe injury that caused him to miss most of last season when he opened the year as the starting left guard in front of Leary.

The Cowboys see Collins as a young, integral piece of their offensive line, as they should. Collins was projected to be a first-round pick in 2015, but a few days before the draft, a story broke that he was answering questions in a murder investigation. He was not a suspect, but the damage was done.

Cue the free fall.

Despite the turmoil, the Cowboys moved quickly to scoop up the undrafted lineman from LSU. Fast forward two years, and Dallas has signed Collins to a two-year, $15.4 million extension.

This is when he starts to earn that money. Though a left tackle in college, Collins was signed by Dallas to play guard. Now that Free has retired, the Cowboys will slide him over to a more demanding position of tackle but one he is capable of playing.

Collins has yet to play a full season in the NFL, with a high ankle sprain and torn ligament in his toe cutting both his 2015 and 2016 seasons short. Last year when Collins went down, they simply subbed in Leary and hardly anyone noticed the difference.

Neither the Cowboys or Collins have that luxury anymore. Especially when you consider Dallas still has to figure out what to do at left guard after with the domino effect of Collins kicking out to tackle.

Former third round draft pick Chaz Green was thought to be the early favorite heading into training camp, but he suffered a shoulder strain and has missed some time.

Jonathan Cooper, a first round pick out of North Carolina in 2013, has filled in during Green's absence with the first team and could end up earning the job. Cooper played in both New England and Cleveland last year, and spent the first three years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals.

Beyond Green, Cooper, and Collins, the Cowboys have a mix of tackles Emmett Cleary and Byron Bell and guard Clay DeBord as backups. Backup center Joe Looney can also play along the line as needed. 

So while there is some uncertainty about how and where these new pieces will fit on Dallas' offensive line, there is no shortage of talent or potential – a problem few teams have. In fact, given the three Pro Bowlers on the Cowboys' offensive line, it's almost hard to believe they are the slightest bit concerned about the offseason turnover, especially since they got younger at the new positions.

But then again, few teams rely on the run as much as Dallas does.

According to teamrankings.com, the Cowboys ran the ball 48.7 percent of the time last year, the most in the NFL. Dallas also averaged the third most rushing yards per attempt and the second most yards per game.

It's no secret that with a running back like Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas wants to run the ball. Not only does it make things easier for Dak Prescott, but it wears opposing defenses out by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.

With so many question marks on defense, it's imperative Dallas' offense remains a juggernaut. As training camp turns into the preseason, the Cowboys must work to solidify these two offensive line positions.

It shouldn't be terribly difficult, though.

They already have the pieces needed to complete the puzzle.

Are you worried about the O-line or do you feel the Cowboys still have one of the best groups in football? Share your take with Reece on Twitter @ReeceWaddell15.

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