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August 28, 2013

Doug Free and Ron Leary could be Cowboys' starting guards on opening day

The Cowboys have started four different offensive line combinations in their four preseason games, but they may not have had their starting five together yet.

Jerry Jones said Wednesday at the team's Kickoff Luncheon that Doug Free and Ron Leary could be the team's starting guards against the Giants.

"Don’t rule that out," Jones said.

Leary has been on the 53-player roster for only one game in his brief career, and he was inactive in the season finale against the Redskins last year. Free's only experience at guard came last week when he was switched from tackle and started against the Bengals. He has made 55 career starts at tackle.

Yet, despite Free's inexperience at guard and Leary's inexperience, the Cowboys appear to like their chances with Leary and Free better than with Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. Bernadeau and Livings were signed as free agents last year and given a combined $6.2 million in guaranteed money. Livings has been out since early August since having knee surgery.

The Cowboys had penciled Leary into the starting lineup after he started the first two preseason games in place of Livings at left guard. He had right knee surgery Aug. 16, and the Cowboys have said all along he will return as a starter. Jones said he remains confidence Leary can be ready for the season opener against the Giants.

The Cowboys liked what they saw from Free against the Bengals, enough that Jones intimated the team is out of the market for a starting-caliber guard. Dallas had gone after Brandon Moore and Brian Waters, but it could get neither signed.

"Free was nothing short of amazing to come in and play at the level that he played," Jones said. "You’d have to be real careful making a pretty significant commitment relative to just the cap standpoint at this juncture, relative to looking to the future."

The Cowboys are confident Jermey Parnell will be fine at right tackle, though he has made only one career start. Parnell started at left tackle against the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day when Tyron Smith was out with a sprained ankle.

"We’ve seen him playing at the level he played at last year, and the way he played last year, he can start at right tackle," Jones said. "And we thought that was a question: Is he playing at that level in this outing he had against Cincinnati? And yes, we saw it."

Parnell has little experience. He played only 18 offensive plays in the first nine games, in short-yardage situations when the Cowboys used an extra tackle. He played 75 plays in the Cleveland game at left tackle after Smith was injured and all 77 plays at left tackle against the Redskins.

He split time with Free at right tackle in the final four games. Free played 179 snaps the final four games, with Parnell taking 84 at right tackle. Free played every snap the first 12 games.

-- Charean Williams




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