The Uche Nwaneri signing indicates that the Dallas Cowboys want to focus more on running the football in 2014.
Uche Nwaneri was not only the Jaguars most agile offensive lineman over the last several years, he was the most quick-witted and technically sound run blocker. A big body and quick feet are two traits that can’t usually be associated with the same guard. This is why players like Carl Nicks cost the Buccaneers a boatload of dough: the Saints learned this the hard way when they had to let him walk in free agency and their running game ended up in the toilet.
In the NFL it doesn’t matter if you have the best bookend tackles in the league. If you want to be able to run the football, you need a mauling straight line road grader to clear a path. However, finding a guy who can do that isn’t as difficult as finding a guy who can not only do that, but get to the second level and take out the linebacker on the move, or pull to overload the edge.
Uche Nwaneri not only showed amazing power as a run blocker early in his career, but in the Jags third game of the 2009 season against the Houston Texans, on one of Maurice Jones Drew’s 3 touchdown runs, he plowed his way through not one, but two linebackers including All-Pro DeMeco Ryans to lead the way. It was plays like this that convinced the Jaguars front office to get out the checkbook and extend his rookie contract before he hit the open market .
Jones-Drew had a career high season racking up 15 touchdowns and almost 1,400 rushing yards with Uche Nwaneri leading the way. Signing him to a five year $24 million contract with $8 million guaranteed in 2010, would later prove to be a bargain because Nwaneri continued to be the key to the Jaguars running game success moving forward. Jones-Drew averaged 1,440 yards per season up until his season ending injury in 2012.
Luckily for the Cowboys, the Jaguars found themselves in a financial crisis and Uche Nwaneri, who was set to earn $5.9 million in 2014, became the sacrificial lamb. Releasing him freed up $3.7 million in much needed cap space.
In a previous article I mentioned that the Cowboys 1st round draft choice Zack Martin had never played inside at guard before. I also mentioned that he was more of a finesse blocker than a road grader. The recent interest the Cowboys have shown in Uche Nwaneri indicates that the front office may feel the same way now that they had a chance to evaluate the current status of the offensive line in OTA’s and minicamp.
Where does this leave Zack Martin? In my opinion, the Cowboys should continue to develop him at his natural position of tackle as a future replacement for Doug Free. I believe that Martin’s quickness and technique combined with some NFL coaching should be enough to compensate what he lacks in over-all length.
- Uche Nwaneri has proven to be what I refer to as a “complete” guard. He has the power to blaze a path for the RB to follow (road grader)… Quickness to get to the second level and lay down blocks on the move… Excellent agility to move laterally and seal the edge when pulling… Experienced veteran who does a nice job of reading stunts and blitzes… Plays with a solid base… Uses a good combination of power and technique in pass protect… Plays with good pop, strong violent hands… Has good knee bend and anchors well against the bull rush… Maintains good pad level… Mirrors opponents well… Plays with some nasty… Versatile because he can play center in a pinch… Smart enough to make the line calls… Solid veteran guard…
It’s rare to be able to find a guard who is efficient as a pass blocker and a run blocker. They are usually primarily one or the other because many are recruited for a college system that emphasizes one or the other and that’s where most of their experience lies. Uche Nwaneri is a complete guard and the Cowboys interest in him tells me they not only want to focus more on the running game in 2014, but give Tony Romo some veteran experience on the interior of the offensive line to help young players like Travis Frederick develop in to better pass blockers.
It’s obvious that pressure up the middle has been a major problem for Tony Romo and pass protection is Fredericks weakness. Anyway you look at it: signing Uche Nwaneri is a win-win situation for the Cowboys. Protecting the teams $108 million QB investment isn’t a bad idea either. Especially when it appears as though all they have to rely on for a #2 is Brandon Weeden, who couldn’t even keep a job with the quarterback starved Browns.