Offensive Linemen Dominate Early Visits

Think the Dallas Cowboys plan to improve their offensive line? If the schedule of players headed to Valley Ranch is any indication, it certainly looks that way.

Two of the first players who have agreed to visit the Cowboys, ranchreport.com has learned, are Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey and Colorado tackle Nate Solder (Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara also has a visit scheduled). In addition, the Cowboys are believed to be trying to line up a visit by Baylor guard Danny Watkins.

• At the start of the 2010 season, Pouncey was known best as "the other Pouncey" after his twin brother, Maurkice, was drafted last year by the Pittsburgh Steelers and quickly established himself as one of the league's best centers.

Mike Pouncey, who measured in at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis at 6-foot-5 and 303 pounds, is considered by many to be the best interior lineman in this year's draft. He initially played guard in Gainesville, before sliding inside to play center after his brother left for the NFL. Some teams view him as a candidate at either position, but the Cowboys are believed to be among the teams that view him as a guard at the professional level, in part because he was inconsistent snapping the ball in 2010.

Pouncey is an excellent athlete who plays light enough on his feet that he can pick up stunting defensive linemen in pass protection and strong enough to generate considerable push while run blocking. He also is aggressive, accelerates well and has good lateral quickness, allowing him to seek out a linebacker to hit after planting a defensive lineman. Coaches rave about his versatility to play different positions and in different offensive schemes, and frequently throw out the word "coachable" when describing him.

• Solder is one of those guys who got a little shorter when he moved from his school media guide to the NFL Combine … but he still measured in at 6-8 and 319 pounds and was among the top offensive linbe performers at the Combine in the 40-yard dash (5.05), vertical jump (32 inches), the broad jump (9 feet, 2 inches) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.34).

Once thought to be in the second tier of tackle prospects behind Boston College's Anthony Castonzo and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Solder and USC's Tyron Smith have caught up with the first two on some teams' draft boards, or perhaps even passed them.

Solder's critics have suggested that because of his exceptional height, he has problem with leverage and holding his own against bull rushes. Not true. Solder looks almost lanky, if that's possible at nearly 320 pounds, and has very good feet, whether it's holding his ground against a bull rush, kicking out to stay in front of a speed rusher trying to get around the outside, or driving forward to help open up a running lane. He has gotten pretty adept at using his long arms to corral speed rushers, and if there is any legitimate concern, it's that he could stand to get stronger, both in his upper body and in his legs, which would help his balance. With a frame his size, adding some bulk in an NFL strength program shouldn't be difficult.

• Watkins (6-3, 310) is old (26) for an NFL prospect, and he has only been playing football since 2007. But his inexperience is one thing that excites some teams. The Kelowna, British Columbia (Canada) native grew up playing rugby and hockey, which means two things: he is just scratching the surface of his football talent, and he has an athletic background that few offensive linemen can claim, which becomes apparent in analysis of his quickness and extraordinary balance, even in heavy traffic.

Just as Watkins will have to adjust to the speed and strength of NFL players, he also will have to adjust to playing guard; at Baylor, he was the Bears' starting left tackle for a couple of seasons, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior (before transferring to Baylor, he was a JUCO All-America tackle at Butte Community College in California).

If a guard prospect is worth pursuing based on raw tools, Watkins is it. He doesn't have a blazing 40-yard dash time (5.4), but he is very quick and powerful (he did 29 repetitions with the NFL-standard 225-pound bench press at the Combine). He holds his ground against pass rushers and can move most linemen when run blocking. He has exceptional balance and has a remarkable football IQ for someone so new to the sport. His age and short arms will be held against him, but he has shown a mean streak and aggressiveness that coaches love in offensive linemen.

Mile High Huddle Top Stories