Is everyone in Dallas on the same page about Doug Free starting at left tackle?
From the moment the Cowboys released perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams, I assumed his replacement would be Doug Free. But for whatever reason, the other NFC East teams aren't convinced. Free exceeded expectations while filling in for an injured Marc Colombo in '09, but he was overmatched when he saw emergency duty against Jared Allen in a playoff game.
The fact that Free has excellent footwork and quickness gives him the proper foundation to protect Tony Romo's blindside. Still, teams such as the Eagles don't seem convinced that Free will be up to the task. I recently took a peek at the Eagles' depth chart for the Cowboys, and they have Alex Barron's name next to Free's. They didn't do that with the other 10 positions on offense. And the Eagles aren't alone. There's a belief from the Giants and Redskins that Barron will eventually win the job because of his experience. That's not to say they're rooting for Barron, because they'd actually like Trent Cole, Justin Tuck and Brian Orakpo to have a go at Free.
So where's all this doubt coming from? I know that Free barely has any experience at left tackle in the league, but he was excellent on the right side in seven games last season. And his skill set is better suited for the left side. Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who's tutored some of the best in the game, told me recently that nothing seems to faze Free. He's seen more of a sense of urgency from the player since he was named the starter and he admires Free's work ethic. There's nothing to suggest that Barron's going to light it up in training camp and surpass Free.
But even some of Free's teammates seemed to have their doubts in the days after Adams' release. DeMarcus Ware, a man who knows how to embarrass a left tackle, was completely caught off guard by the move and expressed surprise. He's since rallied behind Free, but it's hard to dismiss his initial reaction. I've also pressed Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode on the topic. He had immense respect for Adams, but he's trying to say all the right things about Free.
From my perspective, I'd have more concern with Colombo right now than Free. That's not to say Free's the better player, but Colombo's leg injury was pretty significant and he probably should not have returned for the Vikings game based on his performance. He's one of the toughest players in the league, but you can only do so much on one leg. I think Barron was brought in with Colombo's durability in mind.
But the rest of the division seems to think Barron was brought in to replace Adams. I guess we'll find out soon enough. By the way, how would you rank the starting left tackles in the division as of today?