Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman

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Cowboys O-Linemen 'Speak Volumes' On Coaching Change

November 01, 2018 - 8:11 am
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FRISCO (105.3 THE FAN) - It was never the intent of 24-year-vet NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander to come to the Dallas Cowboys this year and undo everything the Dallas O-line was doing.

Rather, the idea was that his "High Hand/Low Hand'' blocking philosophy would accent the group's excellence and add to its toolbox.

Instead, Cowboys blockers found themselves stuck in limbo between two styles. And now Alexander finds himself out of a job.

So today, as the Cowboys resume practice, the theme is essentially "Back To The Future.''

"It's obviously a tough situation in the middle of the season," All-Pro guard Zack Martin said of the bye-week dismissal of Alexander, "but (elevated assistant Marc) Colombo's been here as long as I've been here. He's done a great job for us and will continue to. We appreciate everything coach Alexander did for us. This is not a blame game on one person. We still have to play better and we have a long way to go. We're going to go back to work and hopefully keep improving."

That is the politically correct thing to say, and maybe just the correct thing to say, period. But the fact is, in my conversations with four members of the O-line group, there is enthusiasm about moving forward in a way that features a reversion to the techniques taught before long-time Bengals line coach Alexander arrived here this offseason. That doesn't have to be an indictment of Alexander the man (though some in the building found his persona to be sort of goofy). But it is an indictment of how his style (we're talking about the "High Hand/Low Hand'' technique, not any switch to zone-blocking over a power-gap philosophy, as that reported change never actually happened) didn't fit the style that will be retrofitted by Colombo and out-of-retirement aide Hudson Houck.

Surprisingly to me, even young blockers like La'el Collins have a good working knowledge of Houck and his reputation built on a 40-year NFL career. Houck is in the building here at The Star, helping the 3-4 Cowboys ready for a Monday visit from the Titans -- a game that this O-line believes can be put largely on its shoulders, as has happened in the last few seasons when this group it at its best.

At the same time, this is a hard what-have-you-done-lately business, a sentiment reflected in All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith's review of the change. Ask if he feels personally responsible for the change, Smith said, "Not at all. Something like that happens, it's not really nobody's fault. Nobody is really in control of something like that. We don't really pay too much attention to it. (We) focus on what we can control."

I don't think Smith meant his statement to sound quite that unfeeling. But this much is true: The Dallas O-line did have some control over Alexander's dismissal, if not in words, than in on-field actions. This group has played well below its reputation, something that was also true a year ago when Alexander predecessor Frank Pollard was fired. These players found out about this change, they say, on Monday morning, before the firing was announced. ... at which point many of them surely took stock in the value of some of Alexander's teachings as well as what had been done here traditionally. Collins told me he thinks he'll benefit from having extra tools in his toolbox -- but he'll lean back to what he knew and what he did pre-Alexander. And Martin didn't shy away from the positive nature of the change.

"We've got a lot of work to do on what's been good, what's been bad,'' he said. "But it's going to be good moving forward.''

Dallas' offensive line has been consistently inconsistent, from penalties to individual errors to assignment gaffes. The hope is that the technique change and the philosophy change leads to overall success.

"We gotta get back to doing what we do,'' said Collins, in a statement that speaks volumes.