Why Cowboys may give Free look at guard

IRVING, Texas -- When Jerry Jones brought up the possibility of playing Doug Free some at guard in February at the NFL scouting combine, it sure sounded like a strange idea.

Free does not have the build of a guard. He relies more on athleticism than power, which is more difficult on the interior.

With the Cowboys closing in on the regular season and Ronald Leary and Nate Livings injured and David Arkin improved, if not ready to be a full-timer, Free has taken snaps this week at right guard with Jermey Parnell at right tackle and Mackenzy Bernadeau moved to left guard.

It is a version of “play the five best guys” I did not envision when training camp started. I thought the best five would have included Phil Costa at center and rookie Travis Frederick at guard. Costa has only been OK and Frederick has been stout as a center but only OK at guard.

Free had a solid training camp and has done a nice job in the three preseason games. Parnell is only now getting into the mix of practice after missing a lot of time with a hamstring injury. Saturday’s game against Cincinnati will be his first of the preseason.

The Cowboys are simply looking at options going forward with Brian Waters apparently unwilling to play at the Cowboys’ price.

The Cowboys hope Leary will return for the opener, but they can't depend on him being ready. And it must be pointed out that he has never played in a regular season game. Livings, who started every game last year, could be on the roster bubble despite a guaranteed $1.7 million base salary. He has not practiced since the early part of training camp and does not appear to be close to practicing just yet.

With the Cowboys moving more to a zone-blocking scheme in the run game, the focus is not so much on moving defenders out of the way, but shielding them and allowing the runners to find lanes. For years it worked in Denver without the strongest of linemen.

Perhaps it could work with Free. Finding out before they play the New York Giants on Sept. 8 makes sense.