ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – After quarterback, center might be one of the more difficult positions in the NFL for a rookie to start at. But that’s what the Dallas Cowboys elected to do with rookie Travis Frederick.
The Cowboys used the 31st pick of the this past April's draft (three picks after the Denver Broncos selected defensive tackle Sylvester Williams) to grab Frederick, and they moved him quickly into the lineup, almost as soon as they handed him a jersey. The Broncos in their base defense put Terrance Knighton over the center most of the time, and opposing coaches have said Knighton has been a key piece in the Broncos’ defensive effort this season.
The 335-pound Knighton will have the size advantage on the 311-pound Frederick and will need to keep Frederick off the Broncos’ linebackers in the second level if the Broncos are going to contain the Cowboys’ run game. Knighton has just seven tackles this season, but he has, along with the other interior linemen, consistently eaten up blockers so that the Broncos' linebackers and safeties can make a play. Wesley Woodyard credits Knighton and Kevin Vickerson with keeping “the linebackers clean so we can get to the ball.’’
Frederick came into the league a far more accomplished drive blocker in the run game – he started games at center and guard in his career at Wisconsin – than a pass protector, but he has played efficiently thus far, having been penalized just once in four games.
In the Cowboys' season opener, the New York Giants often attacked the gaps on either side of Frederick in the pass rush. Frederick is a savvy player, however. He rarely makes assignment mistakes and has shown recovery skills if he loses the advantage early in the play. The Cowboys have rushed for 4.6 yards per carry this season -- good for a tie for seventh in the league -- but haven't been able to pound away in the red zone and have just one rushing touchdown.
The Broncos like to send extra rushers from the middle of the field after Knighton has initially engaged the opposing center, and often taken on a guard in a double-team as well. When the Broncos go to their specialty packages, like the nickel or dime, it will be Malik Jackson who often will be across from Frederick when the Broncos go to a three-man front or even with two down linemen at times. Williams, who was a game-day inactive for the win over Philadelphia, could even gets some snaps as well.
Overall, if Frederick wins the day, the Broncos will have a far more difficult time in run defense, and that means they would have a far more difficult time getting to those third-and-long rush situations where they are often at their best.