One of the biggest problems with the Cowboys in recent years has been the sharp dropoff from the first to the second teams.
Marquee names filled the starting lineup, but whenever someone got hurt there was a massive hole in the team because there was no one in reserve capable of replacing them. And you could forget about replacing someone for ineffectiveness. That option wasn't on the table when the only thing you could guarantee about the replacement was a further drop in production.
In case you don't recall the dire state of affairs, just plug Alex Barron into the closest search engine and remember what he did in the opening week loss to the Redskins last September.
Things look different in Cowboys camp this summer. The team has good depth at every position other than wide receiver for the first time in recent memory. The defensive line has a solid rotation that could wind up costing Igor Olshansky his job, the running back battle should be spirited and there are now too many safeties one year after the team didn't have enough.
Nowhere is the change more noticeable than across the offensive line, which comes as something of a surprise based on the way things looked in the days after the end of the lockout. Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo were both subpar last season, but cutting them seemed to exacerbate, rather than solve, the problems of a unit that underperformed in 2010.
With a few weeks of practice and one preseason game under their belts, the outlook for the Cowboys up front looks much rosier despite two injuries wreaking havoc. Andre Gurode is still recovering from knee surgery and Montrae Holland, pencilled in as Davis's replacement at left guard, is battling back problems.
Those absences seemed devastating. They have turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The loss of Gurode and Holland opened the door for first-team reps for rookie guards David Arkin and Bill Nagy as well as second-year center Phil Costa, and all of them have looked just fine during their appearances with the holdover starters. Throw in first-round pick Tyron Smith, already ensconced at right tackle, and you've suddenly got a unit that is young and deep where last year's was old and thin.
There will be growing pains, to be sure, but you'll take those pains over the pain of watching Davis wither away in front of your eyes every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Whether Holland makes it back is the only big question still facing the unit, and it is a question of lesser importance thanks to Arkin's easy transition to the pro game.
Unless Smith is wildly overmatched, something that doesn't appear to be the case, this year's line will be better than last year's. You can extrapolate the benefits to the offense -- and Tony Romo's health -- from such a change on your own or you can just wait a few weeks and see them in living color.
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