Jerry's Free event against Bengals could be messy

Doug Free has been asked to change positions on the offensive line, how will the change fare for the team?

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones jumped at the opportunity to play in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, in part because he thought an extra week of training camp would be good for his team. But after a month in Southern California and three preseason games, the Cowboys' offensive line is in a state of flux.

Coach Jason Garrett tried to play it down Thursday, but the Cowboys will line up against the first-team Bengals defense Saturday with a revamped offensive line...from last Saturday. Right tackle Doug Free had to accept a pay cut this past offseason to even remain on the roster. Now, he's being asked to change to a position he's never played at any level. Free will likely start at right guard Saturday, when he'll line up across from Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, considered one of the best in the league.

The 6-8 guard is a rare sight in the NFL. This move has disaster written all over it. Tony Romo would be wise to come down with the Doug Free flu sometime in the next 24 hours. I know an injury to Ron Leary (knee) and the inability to sign a guard off the league's retirement list is what set these events in motion. But there's still no excuse for waiting this long to try Free at guard. Former college power forward Jermey Parnell will start at right tackle against the Bengals, with Mackenzy Bernadeau moving to left guard. The Cowboys have a pretty impressive group of wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. But it won't matter if the offensive line is awful.

It was Jerry who made the laughable comment this past February that Romo's mobility meant the Cowboys didn't have to make serious upgrades along the offensive line. On a happier note, it looks like first-round pick Travis Frederick will be fine at center. The Cowboys played him some at guard in the first two preseason games, but then wisely allowed him to focus on the center position. The chemical engineering major from Wisconsin tried to put everything in perspective Thursday during an open practice at AT&T Stadium.

"There's something to be said about building continuity, but I think there's also something to be said about switching everybody in and out," Frederick told reporters. "The way that I kind of explain it is putting gears together in a machine.

"You have all these gears, and if you have all the gears built the same, the machine works well. If one gear is just a little bit different than the other ones, you're going to slip every once in a while. So if you can get everybody to be that gear that's the right way, you mold everybody the same way, you switch everybody in and out so that everybody's doing the same things, then wherever you plug in, the gears all work together."

Frederick did a nice job putting lipstick on a pig. This experimental approach creates chaos less then three weeks before the opener against the New York Giants. Free was so competent at offensive tackle in 2010 that he received a lucrative contract extension. He regressed so much the past two seasons that he became a platoon player with Parnell last season. I've heard scouts say that he's better suited for guard, but I don't see it. His strength at tackle was his footwork and athleticism. But he was susceptible to the bull-rush because of a lack of overall strength. I think it may be even harder to mask that against top defensive tackles such as Atkins. Jason Witten won't be able to help him against some of the top pass-rushers.

It's ridiculous to ask a mistake-prone quarterback to play behind such a shoddy group. Tyron Smith appears to have things tied down at left tackle, and Frederick should be a steady player. Other than that, it's a crapshoot.

"At the end of it, we want to play our best five guys," Garrett told reporters Thursday. "We've got to figure out who they are and what the best combination is. We want them in their ideal spots, but if this group of five is better than that group of five, in these spots, then we should go ahead and do that."

So offensive line tryouts continue Saturday evening at AT&T Stadium. This is supposed to be the dress-rehearsal for the regular-season. Too bad it feels more like amateur hour.

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