Cowboys' ballyhooed offensive line has some question marks

The Cowboys know what they have in Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, but the other spots on the offensive line aren't as clear. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The Dallas Cowboys could have as many as five new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:


Quarterback (Dak Prescott): How does he follow up a phenomenal rookie season in which he had 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions? A player’s biggest jump usually occurs from his first and second season. Prescott might never be a huge statistical quarterback, but he wins.

Tailback (Ezekiel Elliott): He led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,631 yards and could play a bigger role offensively in his second season, especially as a pass-catcher.

Wide receiver (Dez Bryant): Bryant had a full offseason for the first time since 2014, when he ended up leading the NFL in touchdown catches. Injuries have limited him the last two years, but he and Prescott appear to be finding chemistry.

Wide receiver (Terrance Williams): He is somewhat underappreciated for all of the little things he does, but he makes big plays in big moments. He doesn't miss games. He doesn't miss practices. He can run all day. He is also a better receiver when lined up opposite Bryant.

Wide receiver (Cole Beasley): Prescott quickly learned that Beasley is quarterback-friendly. Beasley might not get to 75 receptions this year after leading the team in catches last season, but he will be an effective player in the Cowboys’ system.

Tight end (Jason Witten): He just keeps going. He turned 35 in May and is entering his 15th season. He is the team’s conscience and continues to be a top blocker and third-down option.

Left tackle (Tyron Smith): When experts look for the prototypical lineman, they describe Smith. He was slowed some last year by a back injury, but it did not limit him at all in the offseason.

Left guard (Jonathan Cooper): The former top-10 pick will get the first crack in camp and should fend off all comers. He has strength and moves well enough.

Center (Travis Frederick): He has made the last three Pro Bowls and was rewarded with a mega-deal last summer. With a young quarterback, Frederick has taken on more responsibility with the calls.

Right guard (Zack Martin): He could join Frederick with a mega-deal this summer. If he isn’t the best guard in football, he doesn’t fall out of the top two.

Right tackle (La'el Collins): He started his first two years at left guard, but with the retirement of Doug Free he moved to right tackle in the offseason and looked the part. He has power but he will be tested more in space at tackle than he was at guard.


Defensive end (DeMarcus Lawrence): He had just one sack last season and was limited by a suspension and back injury. He is entering a contract year and will be motivated to have his best season yet.

Defensive end (Taco Charlton): With David Irving out for the first four games, Charlton will be a big part of the rotation if he can fend off Benson Mayowa and/or Damontre Moore. He was a slow starter at Michigan, but the Cowboys believe he can contribute early.

Defensive tackle (Tyrone Crawford): His position flexibility has been something of a curse, but he will have the chance to move back inside early on to show his worth. If the Cowboys play their best four linemen, he could move back to left defensive end.

Defensive tackle (Maliek Collins): He could be moving to nose tackle in running situations, but he has some pass-rush skills, as evidenced by his five sacks last season.

Weakside linebacker (Sean Lee): He has put together back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and was named an All-Pro last year. He is the defense's best playmaker and he has put to rest questions about his health with his play in 2015 and '16.

Middle linebacker (Anthony Hitchens): Can he fend off Jaylon Smith? It’s possible Smith could be a first- and second-down linebacker in his return from a knee injury, but Hitchens is a reliable, underappreciated player.

Strongside linebacker (Damien Wilson): A July 4 arrest could put his roster spot in jeopardy, or at least cost him some games, but for now he remains a starter. If something develops, then Jaylon Smith could move into the starting lineup with Hitchens moving to the strong side.

Cornerback (Orlando Scandrick): He is feeling much better now that he is two years removed from a major knee injury. He also wants to prove he can still be a top-flight corner after the Cowboys selected players at his position in the second and third rounds this spring.

Cornerback (Nolan Carroll): He could be facing a two-game suspension for an offseason DUI arrest, but he worked with the first team in the spring. It is possible he could be pushed for playing time by Anthony Brown or rookie Chidobe Awuzie this summer.

Strong safety (Jeff Heath): He replaces Barry Church, a defensive captain, who left via free agency. Heath has a knack for finding the ball (see the Green Bay playoff game), but he has not been a full-time player in his career.

Free safety (Byron Jones): He is moving into a leadership role in a young secondary despite only going into his third year. Athletically, he can do it all. During the offseason, he has shown more instinctive play that comes with experience.

Special teams

Kicker (Dan Bailey): He missed five field-goal attempts last year, the most since his rookie seasons, but the Cowboys have no qualms about calling him on him in pressure-packed situations.

Punter (Chris Jones): He has always had a strong leg, but he has improved his directional kicking greatly the last two years.

Long snapper (L.P. Ladouceur): He has not had a bad snap in his 12 years. He helps Bailey and Jones do their jobs well because of his precision.