Leary gives Cowboys OL depth at low risk

The following is the 7th in a series of draft profiles for the Dallas Cowboys selected players from April’s draft.  These profiles are put together after watching significant amounts of tape from each player, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and play to get an idea of how they might fit in best with Dallas come training camp.

Ronald Leary
6-foot-3, 315 lbs.
40 time: 5.27, Bench Press: 30
April 29, 1989 (23)

Seldom do undrafted free agents in the NFL get talked about. If they do, it is because they were a famous college football player that has the fans excited because the player that they watched on Saturdays is now going to try to silence his doubters on Sundays. But, almost never would you get a buzz about a player that is undrafted and mostly unknown. I guess this year in Dallas, we have found the exception to the rule because of the way the Cowboys made sure they got their man, Ronald Leary of Memphis. I have received numerous requests to break down his performance in college, like we did with all of the draftees, and I can tell you this is most uncommon to have this amount of curiosity about a player not even worthy of being Mr Irrelevant.

The NFL college free agent system is quite interesting in how it all works together. On the 3rd day of the draft, teams are in constant communication with players who are on their board late, but are still undrafted. If the Cowboys have a dozen candidates for their final pick in the 7th round, they take the one that is most likely not to make it to the end of the draft, and roll the dice on the others. Then, they cheer that those players are not selected while calling their agents to let them know that if the draft doesn’t work out for them, the team would like to sign them immediately as a free agent for training camp.

The money is not great. In fact, it is quite minimal. Each team has $76,585 to spend on their free agents. Total. And, if you consider that the Cowboys inked 19 players, you can see that equals out to about $4,000 per player. And that is the extent of the money they receive until training camp where they will at least receive minimal wages at training camp. Otherwise, any windfall of cash is dependent on them making the team or the practice squad.

But, “Big Ron” did not get $4,000. He got more. In fact, he received considerably more than the next highest free agent that the Cowboys signed, WR Saalim Hakim from Tarelton State, who received $10,000. Leary received the stunning total of $214,000, as the Cowboys decided to basically guarantee Leary a roster spot on the final 53, it would seem.

Because Leary would have been a mid-round prospect had he been healthy, and because the Cowboys feel he’s a player who can make an immediate impact, $205,000 of Leary’s $390,000 base salary for the 2012 season is fully guaranteed (skill, injury and cap). The total guarantee of $214,000 is in line with what Leary would have received as a signing bonus if he were the first or second player selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Leary is not injured. Rather, he has a degenerative knee condition that could drastically shorten his career. But, for now, and for a chance to find a player with good ability, the Cowboys are throwing a little caution to the wind and hoping for the best. There is a reasonable gamble here that could go badly. And although $200,000 would drastically impact any of our bank accounts, $200k in the NFL is not a very big risk.

And if you are going to take a risk, do it on the OL.

Leary is a very large man. So large that his listed weight of 315 seems a bit suspicious. He appears to the eye to be even bigger and not exactly the chiseled body type that Tyron Smith may offer. However, in terms of being a player who immediately could become your best interior line prospect, his game film indicates that he has a chance there.

Below, you will have to opportunity to watch Leary play Left Tackle for Memphis. A couple things about that. First, Memphis is one of the very worst programs in all of college football. He is playing for a program that has won fewer games than any program other than New Mexico over the last 3 seasons. He is also playing LT for the majority of his time in college, whereas at the NFL level, nobody pretends that he is an outside player. At Valley Ranch, it is unanimously thought that he will be playing guard.

As a collegiate, he did a pretty nice job in pass protection. In fact, as we look at the profile for Cowboys prospects, he has that signature long wingspan and arms that they search for with a 83 inch wingspan and almost 35 inch arms. He has the ability to get his hands on you and then you cannot get around him. He has a good push once he finds his man and that will be made easier at guard.

In the running game, there is question about what the Cowboys full approach is going to be. I only say this because in 2011, they left camp feeling good about being undersized and in the early part of the year they ran a large amount of zone running plays. As the season went along, you could see that they retreated back to what we have seen for year, more man-blocking and the desire to find bigger players who can hold the point better, but the damage was done in 2011.

Leary looks like a promising prospect for the straight ahead or slanting game of the zone runs, but, whether he can pull around in the G-Power schemes that the Cowboys have run for years is something I was unable to find on tape. Memphis certainly wasn’t running the ball much, and when they did, I never saw them ask their LT to get out and move. If he is to play guard for the Cowboys, there is a real chance that his ability to pull around the center and find his man who is trying hard to sneak past him will only be seen once we get to camp. Of course, this is predicated on the idea that the Cowboys will still employ their same running philosophy, which may be a mistaken premise with Bill Callahan replacing Hudson Houck in managing the unit. I would assume that Jason Garrett’s playbook will remain the same, but that is just an assumption.

Leary’s big issues will be his ability to stay on his feet. He gets overextended and ends up on his belly quite a bit. Offensive linemen who are on the ground in the running game are often a running back’s worst enemy. That means players are running free and his own blockers are plugging up holes with their considerable frames. You must keep your feet until the runner is past, and this was the ultimate undoing of Leonard Davis in 2010. Also, there is little evidence – good or bad – about his recognition ability when it comes to the complicated job of knowing who to take against confusing blitz looks. This was one of the worst parts of the Cowboys interior in 2011, when teams would show multiple blitzes or even when defense would run inside stunt games and the interior would show confusion. This is an even bigger weakness as Kyle Kosier, the man who called all of the line calls, is not back and one of the two free agent signings Mackenzy Bernadeau is already lost for 2-3 months with a hip injury. The team needs continuity and that might be tough this summer.

But, he has the tools and the frame. He was pretty strong in college at keeping his QB clean, and it appears that the Cowboys have something here to work with. His development, which could be quick, will determine whether they found a diamond in the rough or whether he is simply another OL prospect that is in and out of here in a short time.

Special bonus on Leary, as someone has posted coaches’ film of Memphis. Leary is #75 and plays LT. You can watch him here in complete games for 3 different opponents. H/T to DC Fanatic for finding these.

Memphis vs Mississippi State

Memphis vs Austin Peay

Memphis vs Arkansas State

Summary: Cowboys fans should be optimistic about the future of Leary. He doesn’t appear to have major flaws in his game, but rather slid because of scaring off the medical people at the Combine. He played every week for Memphis and seems able to play at a solid level right now. Might his career be shortened? Sure, but given the average length of a career is so short, we shouldn’t be too concerned about his ability to last past the age of 30, anyway. As I see it, he immediately becomes the best young interior OL prospect on the roster, which certainly says something about what they were working with. He will not get bullied like so many others in this mix. His issues will be to not let players dart around him, but with those arms, he should have an inherent advantage there, too. It does seem too optimistic to think he grabs a starting spot out of camp, but let’s not be surprised to see him on the field in 2012 in some guard capacity. This is a player they may need to count on quickly, especially if injuries hit the team.