Mike Gundy waited until the end of the recruiting season to replace Wickline with former Mike Price disciple Bob Connelly. Connelly was at Washington State with Price and then followed him to Alabama (Price was forced out early). He rejoined his mentor later at UTEP admitting that he gave up a job offer at Tennessee to do so.
Connelly will tell you he learned a lot of offensive philosophy and schemes from Price, including working a lot with spread and wide open offensive styles. Gundy has been open about being very happy with the blocking concepts for the offense the Cowboys run that Connelly has brought to the table.
He also likes the veteran coach's player-side manner and his ability to recruit and experience in both of the largest population centers in Texas.
The first bottom line for Connelly is what he can squeeze out of a depth situation that has just one real experienced starter in Daniel Koenig (left tackle) and a part-time starter Chris Grisbhy (moving from tackle into right guard).
Sitting out the spring after coming off a knee injury last August is potential starter and a real talent in Devin Davis (tackle). Also missing spring practice was part-time starter Brandon Garrett (right tackle) following a bad broken leg in the Cotton Bowl that required surgery and a steel rod for stability.
Everybody else in the mix has very little experience, ranging from extra blocking tight end and back up Zac Veatch to red-shirt freshmen like Zach Crabtree, Jesse Robinson and Jack Kurzu to walk-ons like Grant Canis and Zach Hargrove.
A tough chore indeed but Connelly showed an eye for talent in reviewing and picking out a first-team line for the first practice. You have to start somewhere, but in this case the starting point stayed the point for Connelly as that five finished the spring healthy and in the same positions as the starting five.
LT - Daniel Koenig, 6-6, 300, Sr.
LG - Chris Grisbhy, 6-5, 325, Sr.
OC - Paul Lewis, 6-3, 295, So.
RG - Zac Veatch, 6-4, 290, So.
RT - Zach Crabtree, 6-7, 290, RS-Fr.
Koenig and Grisbhy really form a more veteran and solid left side of the line. Connelly is working pass protection as much inside-out and outside-in depending on the talent and the scheme shown by the defense.
The offensive line is working to be more versatile in their pass protections. A real plus is the way the tackles (Koenig and Crabtree) have done at sealing the edge in the run game and creating off-tackle space for Cowboy runners. The speed of those backs and quarterback J.W. Walsh create real threats the defense has to be aware of and can impact what they are doing in other areas of the defense.
In the same vein as his predecessor, Connelly is doing some cross training with the offensive line as he has Zac Veatch also working at center. It is likely, highly probably, that Devin Davis will find himself a position in August and that will allow for some movement that will strengthen the first-team line and bolster the depth as well.
The second-team offensive line is a work in progress and saw some movement during the spring.
LT - Michael Wilson, 6-6, 300, So.
LG - Colby Hegwood, 6-5, 320, Jr. or Zach Hargrove, 6-2, 350, Jr.
OC - Grant Canis, 6-2, 280, So.
RG - Jack Kurzu, 6-4, 305, RS-Fr.
RT - Jesse Robinson, 6-6, 310, RS-Fr.
The backups got better, but you can tell with the lack of experience and the youth that more work is needed. The plus is that the attitude and the desire to improve is present in great supply. You can see guys at practice truly disappointed when they let the group down. Accountability is high and that is always a good thing.
If you are grading the offensive line, and using a curve, in other words not grading based on recent offensive lines but on the progress made with the goal being what the Cowboys need to look like at the start of the 2014 season, then the grade is ... A+.
Now, if you are grading the offensive line on what it is now and where it needs to be, and you are including both the first and second units then the grade is ... C.
Both grades actually reflect a strong spring. If the effort and coaching is as successful in fall camp then the offensive line will be in step with a skill group on offense that has a chance to be deep and explosive. The process of catching up is well underway but far from complete.