Doug Free works to cut down on penalties

IRVING -- Cowboys starting left tackle Doug Free struggled at times this season. He’s tied with the NFL lead for four holding calls with St. Louis left tackle Rodger Saffold.

In his first year as the left tackle last year, Free was called for nine penalties for 55 yards.

“Penalties are definitely things that bother players,” Free said. “It’s a negative play and it hurts everybody on the team, not just yourself, so it’s something you try to limit.”

When Free signed a four-year $32 million contract this summer with $17 million guaranteed, the expectations raised for Free.

The team rid itself of three veterans for three young players, two of whom were rookies. It put a strain on Free and left guard Kyle Kosier, the only holdovers from the 2010 offensive line.

Opposing defenses are sending their best pass rushers at Free and while he’s been credited with allowing just one sack this season, he is under constant pressure.

Sometimes it’s harder to play better at the position than the previous year just because teams know how you will defend pass rushers.

“I can kinda see why people would say that a little bit,” Free said. “You definitely have a little bit more expectations of yourself. Last year, you’re out there, kinda trying to get the job done. This year, you know what you’re job is and you’re trying to be as perfect as you can.”

On Sunday when the Cowboys face the Rams, Free will play with his third different left guard. Bill Nagy and Derrick Dockery were the first two guards. With Nagy and Dockery out with injuries, it appears Montrae Holland will get the call at left guard.

“It’s definitely nicer working with a guy that knows the system,” Free said. “He has been here before and we definitely got a feel for how he does this a little bit more than if you brought somebody in if you never played with next to you.”