We're taking a look back at the 2012 season by analyzing the work done by all of the Cowboys position groups by themselves. The offensive line is up next.
The Players: The most common alignment had Tyron Smith at left tackle, Nate Livings at left guard, Ryan Cook at center, Mackenzy Bernadeau at right guard and Doug Free at right tackle. Jermey Parnell started splitting time with Free late in the season, Phil Costa was the center for the blink when he was healthy and Derrick Dockery and Kevin Kowalski both saw a little time on the interior.
2012 Performance: We'll get into individuals momentarily, but the offensive line play as a group was way below standard again this year. The Cowboys posted the worst rushing season in their history and the pass blocking wasn't exactly Fort Knoxian. It's become like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill as the Cowboys try and fail to put together a solid unit year after year.
Smith has the least to answer for, but that's hardly a compliment. Too many penalties and too many breakdowns against speed on the outside, although they come with enough signs of better days ahead that you can live with them.
You can't live with Free at any price and especially not at $8 million per season. Parnell wasn't much better, but Free's last two seasons have stripped any memory of the moment when he looked like a comer on the line.
Bernadeau and Livings fluctuated from bad to mediocre, with an overall performance record a lot closer to bad. If either one was a young player, you could at least hope for improvement. They've veterans, though, and the Cowboys keep cycling through players like this without much to show for it.
Cook was okay after Costa got hurt. Costa looked a little better than okay, but he's been hurt so much that you'd sooner count on Jerry Jones hiring a general manager than Costa's presence.
Room for Improvement: The hardest part is picking out where to start. The Cowboys are going to have to think long and hard about using their first-round pick on an offensive lineman or even trading down to accumulate picks to use on several of them. You could improve at every spot, although the priority really is guard and right tackle.
Chances of Improvement: From the standpoint of things not being able to get much worse, the chances are pretty good. Overall, though, what reason do we have to believe that the Cowboys are suddenly going to become great judges of offensive line talent? Smith's the best player they've brought into the fold in several years and the jury's still out on where he's headed.
Long-Term Outlook: We're beating a dead horse at this point, but there is no long-term outlook. It's a bunch of veterans plugging holes and guys who can't stay healthy along with Smith and the disappointing Free. The team seems to love David Arkin, but there's been no on-field illustration of their faith in him. The pipeline's dry and that makes the outlook bleak.
Conclusion: We're quite sure the Cowboys will feature different names on the line next season. Anything else is just hoping at this point.