Guarded Choices

One of the question marks for the Dallas Cowboys' offense centers around who will play guard for them in 2012.

Veteran Kyle Kosier was cut over the offseason. Bill Nagy, a seventh-round draft pick last year, surprised many by earning a starting role, but his season ended early when he fractured his ankle Oct. 16 against New England. Dallas also drafted David Arkin in the fourth round, but he also is young and unproven.

The release of Kosier was a surprise to some, but the Cowboys acted quickly to add a veteran presence when free agency began, signing Nate Livings away from the Cincinnati Bengals and Mackenzy Bernadeau of the Carolina Panthers.

Whether or not the Cowboys spend any of the eight selections they currently hold in next week's NFL Draft remains to be seen. Many believe they will, although most assume Dallas will not spend its first-round choice (No. 14) on a guard, so the chance of someone like Stanford's David DeCastro or Georgia's Cordy Glenn seems slim. But who would make sense later in the draft?

Early (1-2) rounds:
There are several guards who have earned second-round grades from the various teams, but has learned that the Cowboys have considerable interest in Iowa State's Keleche Osemele and SMU's Josh LeRibeus. Osmele, who measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-6 and 333 pounds, has power (he did 32 repetitions on the bench press with the NFL-standard 225 pounds at the Combine) to match his size and has drawn comparisons to former Cowboy Leonard Davis. Several teams like him as a tackle in the NFL, but there are some that project him at guard, where his power and quickness make him an often-dominant run blocker with the potential to play early.

LeRibeus is seen by some teams as a mid-round talent, but Dallas is among a handful of teams that think more highly of him. He measured in at 6-3 and 313 pounds at the Combine, and put up 29 repetitions on the bench press. LeRibeus's strength is really in his quickness and mobility that allows him to obliterate defenders when he pulls to the other side of the line and sprint into the second layer of the defense to find a second defender to block. He can carry a lot more weight, if his future NFL team wants him to — he maintained his quickness while playing at around 360 pounds earlier in his career — so there is ample room for him to get bigger, if needed.

Middle (3-5) rounds:
Who would consider taking a guy from a school like Troy and move him to another position in the NFL? Right — the Dallas Cowboys, who have been understandably pleased with the results they have gotten from DeMarcus Ware, the former Troy defensive end whom they moved to outside linebacker and now is among the best defensive players in the entire NFL. Brown is too small (6-3, 303 at the Combine) to play tackle in the NFL, but he is an exceptional athlete who blocks extremely well. He won't overwhelm defenders with his strength right away — he did 24 bench press repetitions at the Combine — but he uses his hands very well and is athletic enough to stay in front of mobile defenders. He is considered a better run blocker than pass blocker at this point, which makes the projected move to guard even more logical.

Colorado's Ryan Miller (6-7, 321) is another player whose size has some teams projecting him at guard and others envisioning him as a tackle. In addition to his size, he has exceptional athletic ability, having finished among the leaders at his position in the bench press (32 reps), 40-yard dash (5.27), vertical jump (28 inches) and a couple of the shuttles. But moving him to tackle means teaching him an entirely new position. Bringing him to Dallas would give the Cowboys a young, very athletic guard who also could back up Tyron Smith and Doug Free at tackle.

Late (6-7) rounds:
Adam Gettis is considered small for the position (he measured 6-2, 293 at the Combine) and started for just one season in his career at Iowa, but he's an appealing target in the late rounds for a guy who compensates for his relative lack of size with excellent leverage, hands and footwork. He likely will be a backup at first, or maybe even on the practice squad, but Gettis is exceptionally athletic and plays bigger than his size, and has a legitimate future if he can add size and strength.

Miami's Brandon Washington (6-3, 320) is a tough, powerful (28 repetitions on the bench press at the Combine) blocker who can overwhelm defenders while run blocking. His pass blocking, however, can use refinement, which is why most teams project him inside at guard (he played left tackle at UM). He has struggled at times against more powerful defenders, so he likely will need some time to improve his leverage and lower body power, but the tools are there if he is allowed the time to learn.

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