It’s no secretand of attention at Dallas Cowboys training camp, but the literal center of attention is what’s become truly intriguing — as the team shifts offensive interior linemen around to see what might be the best rotation in any given scenario. Connor Williams, currently the starting left guard, has been taking snaps at center while Connor McGovern gets work at left guard, and that’s a spicy hint at what might be to come as the Cowboys also ready Tyler Biadasz to own the role of starter and permanent replacement for retired five-time Pro Bowler Travis Frederick.
, the Cowboys have to identify depth on the interior and they , but there’s still polish to be applied there over the next several weeks. Additionally, rookie seventh-round pick Matt Farniok hasn’t hit the ground running and fellow rookie Josh Ball has been a bit uneven as well as he tries to find his NFL legs. All have had their ups and downs, and considering what the Cowboys went through in 2020 when the injury bug devoured their O-line with some fava beans and a nice chianti — having already begun to nibble by way of — they’d rather not sit on their hands.
Instead, it’s all about utilizing what they have at their disposal from guys like Williams (who took some snaps at center for Texas and during his pre-draft pro day) and McGovern (the backup right guard).
“I think [camp is] going well right now, the rotation, working both left and right guard,” McGovern said of the practice rep rotation in Oxnard, CA. “I feel comfortable playing right last year, it’s where I played and in college, too. But just getting snaps at left guard has helped me a lot, just working on my footwork overall, and I think it’s a good thing.”
McGovern stepped in and stepped up for the Cowboys in his second year, giving the team flexibility that allowed them to kick out perennial All-Pro right guard to right tackle at the back end of the 2020 season, before Martin himself went down with injury. Head coach Mike McCarthy has and continues to see enough from a rapidly progressing McGovern to know what the team has in him, and it isn’t to relegate him to simply one role.
“Personally I think overall just understanding the offense [is improving],” McGovern added. “It helped a lot last year getting a lot of playing time, getting to play next to Zack. It helped slow things down a lot and see the whole picture now. So, instead of being focused on one thing, I’m able to see the whole picture, which I think has slowed it down even more this year and get hopefully the whole picture altogether.”
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That’s good news for the Cowboys offensive line, along with the fact McGovern wants to be more than just a backup, if that’s at all possible, and is working with that level of conviction in mind and heart.
“I just want to prove that I belong,” he said. “I deserve to be on the field. And I think everyday just coming out and just taking care of what I have to do, taking care of what I have to do everyday, and whether it’s working on footwork or hand placement or whatever, just got to keep doing it and keep proving myself. … Last year I was able to catch myself up.
“Definitely playing next to Zack helped a lot — just what I should be looking at. Just off the field, studying the offense. Everything slowed down. And then this year I feel like I’m past where I was before and I feel even more improved.”
And as for Williams, well, he has the same drive to improve, and especially in a contract year. The first time he ever took snaps at center for the Cowboys was in 2021 OTAs, but the more he does, the better his chances are of increasing his value to the club and leaning them more toward potentially making an offer to stick around in 2022.
“[Joe] Philbin, the O-line coach — we were looking at the O-line and obviously it’s nice to have depth and versatility on the O-line, so, it’s just about getting in what you can,” said McGovern in late July. “And, so, obviously some center reps helps me at center and helps me learn the game even better and helps us with depth. So, I was eager to jump in with it.”
He readily admits that position flex is its own challenge.
“It’s definitely a differently lens,” he added. “You see what Travis has seen. It’s a different game, and it’s a better understanding, more in-depth understanding. I’m sitting at left guard still thinking about what the center is thinking. It gives you more insight for the game especially.
“… Y’all all know how the O-line game goes. A guy goes down every now and then and you never make it through a whole season healthy. And, so, it’s definitely nice to be able to move pieces in and out and have versatility.”
That said, the expectation remains that Williams will be starting left guard to begin the season with Biadasz at center and McGovern ready to step in at a moment’s notice. And by the sound of it, that’s a perfectly fine blueprint to Williams, who himself battled injury before being playing in a career-high 16 games last season — the only offensive lineman in Dallas who did.
“Hopefully, I’ll never have to play center this year, but I may have to for a game or two,” said Williams.
If it has to happen, it will.
“Oh, definitely,” McCarthy said of moving Williams to center if Biadasz gets hurt. “Anytime, in my history our guards always trained as centers. As you know you want to have three on gameday. You can’t have enough guys that can snap the ball.”