During my weekly conversation with Wes Bunting, he talked up an athletic, modestly undersized center from a West coast university, whom I'll profile later on Friday. He finished a glowing report, but ended by saying the player was in the 290-300 lb. range, adding, "he doesn't look like Dallas' type of player."
I had to caution him that the Cowboys appear to be changing, or at least broadening their offensive lineman templates in recent years. During the Jimmy Johnson/Barry Switzer era, the Cowboys build a fearsome line which ranked among the league's biggest. The Cowboys wanted size and power, and found a group of big mashers who could also run. Larry Allen, Erik Williams and the underutilized (as a Cowboy) Ron Stone fit this profile.
Dallas has continued to draft mashers, with diminishing degrees of success. After Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode were taken the Cowboys did not have a solid home-picked hit until Doug Free. Free, of course, was a player from the Bill Parcells regime, and Parcells seemed to curb the zeal for the truly huge linemen, though he and Jeff Ireland had nothing to show for their picks until Free arrived in 2006.
Free is a more athletic type of lineman. He started his college career as a tight end, before switching to the line. He weighed 305 lbs. at his year's Combine. Dallas has added over ten pounds of muscle to his frame, but his running ability remains. His sprint downfield to lead Felix Jones' touchdown in the season-finale against the Eagles remains his signature play. He can pull to lead sweeps, and he can run upfield with sidekick Kyle Kosier to lead screens.
Their athleticism stands in contrast to the sluggers on Dallas' right side. Marc Colombo pulled a lot before his knees started to break down, but neither Leonard Davis nor Andre Gurode function well in space. They leave Dallas with a schizophrenic line; the Cowboys have pullers on their left and pushers on their right. Since the left side guys perform better, some evidence suggests the Cowboys will continue looking for more Free types.
Dallas just missed on the 305 lb. Max Unger two drafts ago, a player they projected to guard, and who played center late in his Oregon career. Yesterday, the team signed the 290 lb. Jermey Parnell off New Orleans' practice squad. Today, it released Robert Brewster, a big-bodied slugger from clearly in the '90s and early '00s mold.
Pernell, like Free, started at a different position. He played on Mississippi's defensive line his senior year. He played just that year of college ball before entering the NFL, so he's still raw. The Cowboys must see promise, since they'll have to keep Parnell on their active roster for the duration of his Dallas career, however long that may be.
Even if Parnell fails in Dallas, his signing likely means more guys in his mold and Frees, will come to the team in future drafts, instead of the Shane Hannah, George Hegamin-types. The Cowboys have size and speed at all their skill positions. It makes sense to add linemen who can mirror their athleticismc especially in a league which is moving more and more to the 3-4 and to active fronts like Tennessee's, where all four DLs can change direction at speed. This quality may now take priority over raw girth.
Or, Parnell could simply be a short-lived curio. As always, we'll see.
Tonight: Wes Bunting and I finish our weekly chat with more on that athletic center, among other players.