Ready to get in line

IRVING, Tex. - It would be easy to understand if guard Ronald Leary, and undrafted rookie from Memphis, was seen strutting and preening his way around the mini-camp the Dallas Cowboys conducted this week.

Doing so might seem a little odd for a guy who played on a poor college football team and wasn't viewed as a dominant player in Conference USA (he was named second-team all-conference as a senior), signed with Dallas after going unchosen in April's NFL Draft and reportedly brought with him a degenerative knee condition that many believe scared off some teams that were considering taking him.

But Leary shed the "who's he?" tag during the team's rookie mini-camp the weekend after the draft when Dallas owner Jerry Jones was asked about which of the undrafted rookies had caught his eye. Jones mentioned Leary, and all of a sudden, everyone in attendance started studying up on him. With a few flattering words from his new boss, Leary had become someone.

So at last week's mini-camp, which was open to first- and second-year players, quarterbacks and any player who had missed part of the team's offseason program because of injury, Leary would be forgiven if he acted exceptionally confident. There's little that could be said to debate the fact that he is the closest thing to a proven NFL commodity of any of the gathered offensive linemen.

"I'm nowhere near where I want to be," Leary said Friday when asked about his assessment of his performance so far since joining the team. "As far as my transition from college to here, it's huge. I'm going to keep talking to (offensive line) Coach (Bill) Callahan, and when I get around the rest of the guys at training camp, I'm going to try to pick up everything I can from the veterans.

"I feel like I have matured a lot (since joining the Cowboys). I have learned a lot, and I stayed up here (since the last mini-camp) — I didn't go home. I stayed here and worked."

Much of that work was on his conditioning, Leary said. The Cowboys, as would be expected, have a different strength and conditioning program than the one in which he participated in college. "We definitely lift weights differently here," Leary said, laughing. "It has helped, too — I've lost a few pounds. I feel a little quicker, and my wind is a little better when we get a lot of reps, like we have this week."

Leary said he now weighs 319 pounds, which is one more than his listed weight on the team roster, but several pounds less than he says he carried a few weeks ago.

The small-scale environment at this week's camp — of the roughly 40 players in camp, just six were offensive linemen — allowed players to get a great deal more individual attention than they would in a full-team setting, and Leary said he found the arrangement enormously beneficial.

"There was just so much more teaching," he said. "At the other mini-camps and OTAs, you wait your turn on drills, but here, you're in on almost every play and every drill, and Coach Callahan was able to give us a lot more individual attention. We all benefited from it."

The extra work with Callahan might have helped, but Leary was quick to point out that he knows he still has a long way to go in training camp.

"Just competing," he said when asked what he looks forward to most when he gets to Oxnard. "I'm a very competitive person, and I just want to compete for a job. I hold myself to a really high standard, and now it's time to put it all together."

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