Cowboys Depth In Focus: Offensive Line

Sam Mayes is a former standout, third-team All-American offensive lineman for Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys over the years have had some over-achieving offensive linemen, the guys that look like they belong in the first round of the NFL Draft have been few and far between. Mayes says that if a team doesn't have an offensive line then they don't have an offense, and he's right.

Last season as true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph tore off his redshirt and came to the rescue, he was accompanied by some changes in the offensive line. All of it came together to help produce the offense needed for that strong finish to the season.

Fast forward to this spring and while all the components for the offensive line at the end of last season were back there were differences. Guard Zac Veatch lost weight and moved back to tight end. Offensive line coach Bob Connelly departed and went to Southern Cal in the same capacity.

It was up to Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to make sure that they came up with a strong replacement for Connelly and also try to make sure the new coach had enough material to work with in order to continue the progress of building a stable offensive line.

In the wake of UAB dropping its football program in came transfer starting left tackle from the Blazers in 6-7, 340-pound Victor Salako. Then later, after Connelly left, Gundy tapped into the knowledge and recommendations of folks like Hall of Fame and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and former Georgia head coach Jin Donnan to hire Greg Adkins as offensive line coach.

Adkins had most recently been in the NFL as tight ends coach with the Buffalo Bills. He quickly impressed his new pupils.

"He just knows his stuff. He's a football genius and he knows what he's talking about," Jesse Robinson, who was a big addition to the starting offensive line late in the 2014 season, said of his new coach.

"He makes it so much fun to get out there and just play for him. You look forward to getting into meetings with him. You don't know what he's going to bring every day. He's just going to shake it up on you. Every drill we do has a purpose. We see it in film. He just makes it so much fun to get out there and play.

"Coach [Adkins] has done a great job developing that unit. I think we're a healthier group right now, that's the most important thing. You can never control injuries, so that's one thing that's really out of our control. It's just the way it is, but our guys are playing tough. They always will. They'll be well prepared with Coach Adkins and what he's done. His experience is just tremendous to have."

Yurcich said at the end of spring that the offense was awesome and the line was a big part of it. He was elated with the progress that was made. Like the linemen themselves, he gives Adkins credit, but he also gives those linemen credit.

"From a fundamental standpoint, you can see the improvement we've made up front, and you have to give our players the credit because they're the ones working at it," Yurcich added. "They're the ones who take pride in themselves. I think we saw it toward the end of last year, the amount of pride they had in themselves.

"Over time you're going to get better. You're going to improve as long as you work hard and have great attitudes, the way our guys right now have."

Adkins is an old school kind of coach that isn't buddy-buddy with his players but they understand he cares and understand he demands.

"I think they're still getting used to me and the way I coach and the way we approach things," Adkins explained. "Obviously, getting used to playing beside certain guys and that sort of thing. I think we still have a ways to go there, but I like the progress we've made."

As far as the talent, Adkins seems to convey that the frontline talent is there but depth is another issue and he's in the midst of developing the younger players and some players that had been left by the wayside. You have the play and develop the ones that you have.

"I think there's a couple guys, probably, that at the end of the day we kind of know that they're going to be there," Adkins said going in some detail. "I'd like to look at some different combinations but our overall depth hasn't allowed me to do that.

"We really only been worked with 10 guys in the spring. You look at guys maybe that's playing guard out at tackle for a period or something of that nature, or a center playing guard or a guard playing center, so just the lack of personnel overall didn't allow me to mix and match some of the things that I'd like to at least take a look at."

As Adkins said, the ones he has that he knows are going to be there include Salako and big Zach Crabtree at the tackles.

Crabtree said this line has gone from taking blame for problems in the middle of last season to having a little swagger heading into the summer.

"A big part of it is experience, but just as important is we have our swagger back," Crabtree said. "We've got a lot of room for improvement, but we look better at this point than we did last year. There's definitely a swagger, and we're carrying ourselves a little different."

Here's my guess at how the offensive line shakes out from a depth chart standpoint heading toward fall camp in August:
Left Tackle
73 Victor Salako, 6-7, 335, Jr.-Tr., UAB/Huntsville (Grissom), Ala.
78 Matthew Mucha, 6-6, 290, RS Fr., Houston (Clear Lake), Texas

Left Guard
74 Michael Wilson, 6-6, 305, Jr., Aledo, Texas
68 Deionte Noel, 6-3, 315, RS Fr., Cibolo (Steele), Texas
79 Jack Kurzu, 6-4, 305, St. Louis (Mary Institute and Country Day), Mo.

71 Brad Lundblade, 6-3, 300, So., Argyle (Liberty Christian), Texas
57 Paul Lewis, 6-3, 295, Jr., Galena Park (North Shore), Texas
77 Jaxon Salinas, 6-4, 305, So., Irving, Texas

Right Guard
64 Jesse Robinson, 6-6, 310, So., Bedford (L.D. Bell), Texas
66 Lemaefe Galea'i, 6-5, 325, RS Fr., Euless (Trinity), Texas

Right Tackle
60 Zach Crabtree, 6-7, 305, So., Mansfield, Texas
76 Colby Hegwood, 6-5, 315, Sr., Pearl River C.C./Flowood (NW Rankin), Miss.
51 Brandon Pertile, 6-5, 310, So., Mesa C.C., Ariz./Georgia State/Clearwater (Countryside), Fla.

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