Young and Restless

The Dallas Cowboys have one more preseason game to work out the kinks before the 2011 season opener.

Rewind a few years. The Dallas Cowboys had one of the National Football League's most potent offenses, in large part because they had an offensive line regarded by many to be among the best — if not the best — in the entire league.

The line of left tackle Flozell Adams, left guard Kyle Kozier, center Andre Gurode, right guard Leonard Davis and right tackle Marc Colombo was big, strong and athletic, and had the experience and disposition not only to block would-be defenders, but to maul them in the process. It was because of those big guys up front that many predicted stardom for then-Dallas running back Marion Barber. It could even be argued that the quintet of blockers was responsible for Barber's enormous contract.

Quick: how many thought Kosier would be the last member of that group in Dallas?

Liars — anyone who claims to have predicted that is lying. It seemed like the Cowboys were trying to find Kosier's replacement for years, even though the offensive line struggled most when he was out of the lineup with injuries. But Adams was dumped and ended up in Pittsburgh last year, Colombo and Davis were sent packing as soon as the NFL owners lifted their lockout of the players, and now Gurode was cut after the team determined that Phil Costa deserved the starting job, and Gurode was far too expensive, at more than $5.5 million per year, to come off the bench.

What all of this means is that Thursday's exhibition finale against the Miami Dolphins is not as meaningless as most exhibition finales are. In a normal season, the last game of the exhibition season is about as exciting as plastering a wall, with starters eager to get out of the lineup as fast as possible (and often figuring out a way to avoid playing at all). Limiting the playing time of most starters isn't a hard sell for coaches, either, as they already know who their starters and key players will be for the upcoming season, and considering the injury risks in any game, the coaches want their starters off the field about as quickly as the players themselves want to get out of their helmets and into their comfortable baseball caps on the sideline.

That theory likely won't apply Thursday, however. Nor should it, when three-fifths of the projected starting offensive line has a combined one year of NFL experience, and even that was limited as Costa played in all of four games … starting one. Right tackle Tyron Smith and guard Bill Nagy were at USC and Wisconsin, respectively, last season. In addition, Costa is likely to skip the Miami game (Kevin Kowalski — he of the football powerhouse that is the University of Toledo — makes THREE rookies who should start on the offensive line). Think Tony Romo is sleeping well?

For most players, the goal in the final exhibition game is to get on and off the field without getting injured, or if everything goes well, without even sweating. But for the Dallas offensive line, Thursday's game with the Dolphins is big. The blockers — whether the starting unit that will include Nagy, Smith and probably Kowalski, or their backups — have to show that they can keep Romo and the other Dallas quarterbacks in one piece, and open running lanes for Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and the rest of the Dallas running backs. There are other youngsters with promise. Tackles Sam Young and Jeremy Parnell and guard David Arkin all have had their moments, but they also have been inconsistent.

The Cowboys are right to force the transition to a younger generation of linemen. There will be growing pains, and Kosier and Doug Free will have to serve as mentors to the kids around them as they get their professional feet wet, but in the long run, it will be the right decision.

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