Dallas Cowboys

How did La’el Collins hold up against Raiders?

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, left, greets offensive lineman La'el Collins (71) before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. Atlanta won 39-28. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth )
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

One of the major storylines of the Dallas Cowboys offseason this year has been the transition of two positions on the offensive line. With Doug Free retiring and Ronald Leary departing in free agency, the Cowboys have had some decisions to make along the strongest part of their team. The left guard spot has been a source of uncertainty with Chaz Green, Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell and Emmett Cleary all getting work at guard. But from early in the offseason, the team placed La’el Collins at right tackle and knew that while there would be some growing pains, the outcome would be worth a few ups and downs at the start.

Saturday’s 24-20 preseason victory over the Oakland Raiders provided what is likely to be the greatest test for Collins before the regular season. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, happens to play left defensive end for the Silver and Black, and how Collins held up against Mack provided a great deal of context for the young right tackle’s development.

He experienced some moments that were less than ideal, including a couple of penalties for illegal hands to the face that will leave Collins with plenty of correctable points, but there also were a number of positives.

On the play above, a completion to tight end Jason Witten, Collins showcases a quality pass set, and the type of hand usage, balance and power that he’ll need when facing some of the NFL’s best rushers throughout the season.

He stays square to his target, stabs with his outside hand to slow Mack’s rush, then brings his left hand to Mack to secure him. Even Mack, one of the most powerful edge rushers in the NFL, can’t knock Collins off balance on this snap, as he resets his base and provides quarterback Dak Prescott with a nice wide pocket to deliver the ball.

On this snap, Mack tries to use his athleticism to get Collins off balance before beating him around the edge. But Collins was up to the task. His punch knocks Mack off balance, then Collins’ best trait shows up — he looks to finish the block by burying Mack behind Prescott.

On this snap, Bruce Irvin drew the assignment of rushing against Collins.  Irvin typically wins with athleticism and technique rather than the pure power that Mack usually deploys. Irvin wants to try to force Collins to overset upfield, then spin back inside him. But Collins showcases a level of patience that has been lacking at times through camp. He waits for Irvin to throw his move, resets his feet and drives Irvin into his teammate to the inside, with another strong finish.

These are three very strong pass protection reps against two high quality rushers using three different approaches against him, and he handles each with ease.

With this type of progress in pass protection to go along with his menacing ability as a run blocker, Collins looks set to have a very good season, and perhaps a great career at right tackle for the Cowboys.

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