Sieve to Svelte

When was the last time you heard the name Larry Allen? The offseason? The preseason when the 49ers came calling? How about during the regular season? It appears Kyle Kosier has held his own. There have been no "we should never have allowed our Pro Bowl left guard to depart" discussions since the season has started.

This held true even with Drew Bledsoe behind center.

There was plenty of "Kyle who?" talk when the acquisition was made in early '06. This relative unknown was supposed to replace the irreplaceable Larry Allen? Surely, you jest. It was going to take Steve Hutchinson or another mainstay anchor to fill the void at left guard. Kosier has quietly displayed his effectiveness while proving the talent evaluation team had a good feel for his skill sets and playing package. He's probably not in the same bench press zip code as the departed Allen, but Kosier has shown quickness and the constant ability to get out on the opposing linebacker corps. This was Allen's shortfall. Strong at the point of attack, but extremely slow (age and logged NFL time will do this to you) getting to the second level. Kyle Kosier may never be the Pancake King, but his versatility and athletic abilities have served him, and the Cowboys, well.

Moving a step to the right, it appears Andre Gurode has found his home. Along with a permanent residence has come the maturity level the coaching staff has been seeking. He certainly appears to be a "grown" player in this campaign. He's successfully kept Al Johnson at bay by bringing his intelligence factor in line with his strength at the point of attack. There have been miscues and missed blocking assignments called, but they have been relatively few in number, and most recognizable has been the absence of Jail Break City. For the most part, things seem to be jelling up front, and Gurode's development is a huge reason why.

According to Parcells, the light bulb never quite fully illuminated during his tour of duty at right guard. Inconsistency killed any chances of him maintaining his collegiate position on the next level. He had the ability to road grader opponents while darning a Colorado Buffalos uniform, but the NFL game requires technicians as much as it does pillars of strength. Probably more so at guard than any of the other line positions. The Cowboys enjoy a favorable depth position when it comes to center. Al Johnson has experience and logged playing time in this League, and this is most comforting should any type of change be necessary. It will also force Johnson to work on this strength and conditioning during the off season. If he wants to reclaim his job, he will need to be competitive and ready when the Cowboys roll into the Alamo Dome next summer.

You have to have had lower back problems to fully appreciate the Dallas Cowboys tenure of Marco Rivera. Shattered by his off season treadmill injury in 2005, Rivera was so distraught he offered to give back his signing bonus. Jerry Jones was having no part of that discussion. While constantly battling lower lumbar disk problems, Rivera gave everything he could in 2005. Again, unless you've had disk herniation, it's hard to fully appreciate Rivera's endurance and tolerance for pain. Lower back problems affect everything you do, and a simple sneeze can bring your NFL he-man to his knees. If it isn't a sharp, stabbing bolt of pain, it's the constant dull ache which permeates the entire body. In a nutshell, it ain't fun.

Effects still linger as Rivera grows longer in the tooth, but it's been a night and day revelation from last year to this. The shell of the Pro Bowl guard is back, and his veteran leadership and savvy provides the bond and glue for this constantly-improving unit. While Rivera's strength and agility have resurfaced, he's also not sheparding a turnstile right tackle this year. Imagine the magnitude of what Marco Rivera was asked to do last year. Battle an injury and constant pain while pushing on a plethora of "big uglies," but he was also asked to backfill and provide support for Rob Petitti. No easy task. Some would argue virtually impossible under the circumstances. Just an indicator of what the Cowboys truly have at right guard.

Like Petitti, Marc Colombo must thank his lucky stars to be parked next to Rivera while they maintain the right side. Due to unfortunate injuries, medical conditions and extensive rehab stints, Colombo is virtually a rookie himself. This, without question, is the comeback, feel good story of the year. What Marc Colombo has done to get himself back on a professional football field, let alone playing competitively, is nothing shy of miraculous.

Coming out of Boston College, a NFL linemen factory, Colombo had tremendously high hopes as the first pick of the Chicago Bears in 2002. Things didn't go as planned out of the chute, and it's been nothing short of a frustrating and rehabilitative career to this point. The knee injury was bad enough, but complicating matters was the extensive nerve damage completely preventing any type of lifting and strength training. It's like asking a running back to walk, without the ball. To say the least, Colombo exhibited tremendous perseverance and incredible patience.

Acquired as a reclamation project, this transformation was viewed as at least a year away. What a surprise it became as the preseason games unfolded. This could have been the proverbial revolving door at a highly-vital NFL position, but Colombo's progress and play relegated a proven vet to the pine and dispensed last year's starter to New Orleans. Not too bad of a year for the 1st round pick gone scrap heap. Kudos to the organization for taking a chance on Marc Colombo.

Depending on which source you consult, #75 has either given up one or no sacks to date. Quite a change from last year's chicken wing and look out festival. Colombo is a fighter, and if on the stand, under oath, would most likely admit his full range of motion is still not back to pre-Draft condition, and it may never be. Colombo enjoys a huge wingspan, and he knows how to use his mitts. Hone in on him. Every battle is virtually a prize fight. Once he locks his hands/arms on an opponent, it's most difficult for the would-be pursuer to break free. Parcells and Sparano have to be smiling from ear to ear. The position contained as many, if not more, questions than free safety heading into training camp. Jason Fabini's salary and signing bonus were quickly reduced to insurance premium. Another luxury on a line which contained very questionable depth in 2005. Colombo should be an early nomination for the Ed Block Courage Award.

As a combined unit, this group has really jelled and come into their own. Tony Romo's lateral movement and quickness cannot be overlooked as an asset to the offensive line, but they're getting to know each other and working together is as much responsible for the consistent play. Each week denotes improvement, and nothing could be finer than coming together and fortifying in the December stretch run. Offensive line is all about repetition, familiarity and trust. It appears that Romo's bodyguards are starting to exert themselves in an effort to get to the post season while protecting Romo and opening things up for Jones and Barber. Keep it up fellas, and the Christmas presents could be abundant and lavish. Just a guess, but it's assumed a championship ring would satisfy all needs. Presents would just be icing on the championship cake.

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