DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys went through a bit of a retooling along their offensive line this offseason.
Gone are starters La'el Collins at right tackle and Connor Williams at left guard. The team patched up those holes with Terence Steele stepping in as a permanent option at right tackle, and Tyler Smith becoming the team’s first-round pick at the NFL Draft in April to replace Williams.
The strategy to elevate Steele and start Smith at guard means that the Cowboys now need a swing tackle, and they chose to find their answer from within. One of the players that Dallas was counting on to compete for the job was tackle Matt Waletzko, who was drafted in the fifth round.
However, the Cowboys are just a few days into camp and the rookie has gone down with a shoulder injury.
A sudden injury is a tough blow for a team that is already short on quality offensive linemen, especially at the tackle position. The plan to remake the offensive line was a sound one if both Steele and Smith work out, but it also leaves a gaping hole on the roster that Dallas didn’t do much to fill. The Cowboys simply don't have much depth at tackle and seeing one of their young swing tackle options fall behind isn't ideal.
The injury could quickly become a worst-case scenario for the Cowboys. Waletzko will not only be out for an extended period of time, which hurts in the short-term, but it also puts the rookie behind the learning curve.
Waletzko has the skill set to be a solid player, but he needs time to grow, especially after coming to Dallas via the University of North Dakota, a FBS school. The injury puts him behind in his development and could make it difficult for him to have a shot at winning a job.
It's uncertain how long Waletzko will be out, but for now, the absence leaves second-year tackle Josh Ball as the top option as the third tackle. Ball is also missing experience, having not played a snap in official game action as a rookie last season.
Other options include Isaac Alarcon, Aviante Collins, and Amon Simon, three players who will have to overcome the stigma of being undrafted free agents.
Swing tackle for the Cowboys has become an important piece on the roster. With veteran left tackle Tyron Smith missing multiple games in six straight seasons, the offense needs a legitimate option to step in and hold down the fort. The rookie Tyler Smith is an option at left tackle, but if Steele misses time for any reason at right tackle, Ball is nearly the only viable answer right now.
The offensive line was one of the positions where the Cowboys needed to add depth before the season began, and that remains the case with perhaps even more urgency. It was the circumstance even before Waletzko went down with an injury, and the situation appears more dire now.
Waletzko's injury might finally be the reason for the Cowboys to go out and find veteran help at tackle.
Do you think the Cowboys have enough options at swing tackle? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.
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