Last season, the Cowboys took a severe albeit generally unnoticed blow with an injury to Kyle Kosier, which kept him out most of the season. The platoon of Cory Procter and Montrae Holland was never really sorted out, leaving a consistently questionable spot at left guard.
It was not, if you might remember, a pretty picture.
A similar scenario could have befallen Dallas this season, with right tackle Marc Colombo going down in Green Bay with a broken left fibula and a slew of torn left ankle tendons. This could have been a huge blow--Colombo, simply a mauler early in his career, has developed into a more skilled, more evenly grounded mauler.
The sting of Colombo's absence has yet to really register however. The reason for this is the timely emergence of Doug Free. Free, a fourth round pick in 2007 out of Northern Illinois, had never started a game before this season, and had rarely played at all.
When he did, the quick feet that got him drafted helped keep Tony Romo upright against Washington. The game was ugly. But in the ugliness, the Cowboys got some reassurance in the form of the 6'6" 313 pound tackle.
Since then, Free has continued making the case for his being a reliable offensive lineman, keeping, among others, the vaunted Saints pass rush at bay. His boss, for one, has taken notice.
"Free is a great example of young players and how they progress when they get to play," said Jerry Jones in his appearance this week on 105.3 The Fan. "There’s just no other way around it. You’ve got to get in games and let them play games and they get better right before your eyes.
"I’m glad, for not only where we are but for the future, that Doug has had this opportunity. As we look to our decisions in the offensive line, we know we’ve got a player in Doug Free."