Cowboys ‘flex' interior muscle

The excitement surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' first-round draft choice had to wait … and wait … until late in the evening after the team traded down, sending the 18th pick to San Francisco for the 49ers' first- and third-round picks.

With the pick (31st overall) acquired from San Francisco, the Cowboys took a significant step toward shoring up their offensive line by selecting center Travis Frederick from the University of Wisconsin.

It's not rare for a first-round pick to have started his college team's opener as a true freshman. The fact that Frederick did so, however, is impressive, considering how many Wisconsin offensive linemen end up in the NFL. In other words, he beat out some very good linemen as a true freshmen.

Whether he stays at center or slides over to guard remains to be seen (he started 18 at center and 13 at guard at Wisconsin), but his versatility gives offensive line coach Bill Callahan additional flexibility as the team continues to focus on upgrading the offensive line.

Frederick's game is based on brawn and power, rather than agility and overall athleticism. An Academic All-Big 10 honoree, Frederick measured in at 6-4 and 312 pounds at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. His tests were not eye-catching: he ran a 5.58 in the 40-yard dash, and he bench-pressed the NFL-standard 225 pounds just 21 times — a relatively low total for offensive linemen — at the Combine, but plays with a lot of power, able to turn interior defensive linemen away from a running lane.

Head coach Jason Garrett said after the conclusion of the first round that beyond his raw talent, what impressed the Cowboys the most was his ability to play any of the three interior positions on the offensive line.

"He's a smart, tough guy, (and) his character is outstanding," Garrett said. "We saw it as a position of need, and we spent a lot of time with him. Coach Callahan spent a lot of time with him, worked him out. You know, we have what we call ‘position flex' (when a player can play multiple positions), and he has played a full season at either (guard or center) spot."

Garrett said that it is not a forgone conclusion that Frederick immediately displaces Phil Costa and Ryan cook from the center spot. He cited the fact that the team made offseason changes last year along the interior offensive line, signing guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau as free agents and trading to get Cook from the Miami Dolphins. But he said that even with those moves, the Cowboys enjoyed a better comfort level with their tackles, and that Frederick gives them a chance to bolster any — or all — of the interior offensive line positions.

Garrett also said that the fact that Frederick comes to Dallas from a school with such a rich tradition of producing NFL-ready offensive linemen was taken into account during the evaluation process.

"He has experience playing both (center and guard) in the Big 10," Garrett said. "We want to have competition there. I think you certainly go case by case and try to evaluate the player. There is a long-standing (offensive line) tradition (at Wisconsin), but there's also a recent tradition. So you can talk to people you know and say ‘compare him to this guy, compare him to that guy.'"

Owner Jerry Jones declined to speculate on whether he and the Cowboys' front office felt pressured into taking Frederick for fear of losing him before Dallas picks again Friday in the second round, but echoed Garrett's analysis of Frederick's talent, toughness and character.

"(Frederick) is a good football player," Jones said. "As (Garrett) said, he has the ‘position flex' that we like. We felt better about our tackles than we do in the middle, and this player fit us like a glove."

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