One spot open on the Cowboys line

With training camp starting next week in Oxnard, California, we offer up a position-by-position preview.


Who’s back: Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau, John Wetzel, Darrion Weems

Who they added: Chaz Green (third-round pick), Laurence Gibson (seventh-round pick), La’el Collins (undrafted free agent), Shane McDermott (undrafted free agent), Reshod Fortenberry (undrafted free agent), R.J. Dill (free agent), Ryan Miller (free agent)

Who’s gone: Jermey Parnell, Tony Hills

Roster spots available: Nine

Key question: Who wins the left guard spot?

When the Cowboys signed Collins to a guaranteed three-year contract as an undrafted free agent, it immediately brought Ronald Leary's job into question.

Collins had first-round grades but fell out of the draft because of an unfortunate situation. The Cowboys, however, were able to capitalize and add another huge talent to an already talented offensive line. In a way, Collins could be viewed as the fourth “first-round pick” the Cowboys have used on an offensive linemen in the last five years with Smith, Frederick and Martin.

The Cowboys gave Collins some work at tackle in the spring but settled him in at guard for most of the organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

In 2012, Leary was the big catch as an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys guaranteeing him more than $200,000. He has started 31 of the last 32 games and been solid. He is strong and is good enough athletically to get to the second level in the running game. He won’t just give up his job.

In order for Collins to be the starter, he will have to win the job this summer. Leary got most of the first-team work in the spring but the coaches gave Collins a smattering of snaps.

It will be interesting to see how the coaches work the snaps in training camp to see just how much of a fight it will be between the two players.

Quick thought: The Cowboys did a smart thing in re-signing Free as a free agent. He solidifies a young offensive line and brings the group some guidance when necessary. But Free did not take a snap in the offseason as he recovered from surgery to a foot that kept him out of seven games, including the playoffs.

When the Cowboys start practicing, Free will take his normal spot at right tackle but he will be among the veterans the Cowboys monitor during camp so he avoids getting overworked.

There was no way the Cowboys could keep Free and Parnell and were not going to come close to giving Parnell the money he got to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But it also left them with a hole at backup tackle. They drafted Green in the third round but he is recovering from hip surgery and won’t be ready for training camp. They drafted Gibson in the seventh round because of his athleticism. They had Weems take Free’s snaps in the offseason but he didn’t play last year because of shoulder surgery and has yet to play in a regular-season game.

You can’t have everything when it comes to building a roster, which is why the Cowboys need Free to stay healthy.