Commentary

Doug Free flawless so far at left tackle

Tackle rewards Cowboys' confidence in him with spotless play at his new position

Updated: October 3, 2010, 11:32 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- There is always uncertainty when you move any player to a new position.

Hudson Houck, the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line coach, wasn't concerned, however, when the team moved Doug Free from right to left tackle in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDoug Free
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMICowboys left tackle Doug Free will have his hands full with Aaron Kampman and the Jaguars' pass rush.

The Cowboys made the move to get younger at the position, cutting a 30-something Flozell Adams for a 20-something Free. They figured they saw enough in Free in 2009, when he started seven games at right tackle for the injured Marc Colombo.

Free's move to the left side has worked well. After three games, the Cowboys' new left tackle hasn't allowed a sack or tackle and hasn't committed a penalty.

"He's playing awfully well," Houck said. "It just goes to show if you hang around long enough and you're dedicated in what you do and you got great preparation, look what can be done. He's got good talent and he's maximizing his talent, which is really good for us to see."

Free's opponents the first three weeks were outstanding pass rushers in Washington's Brian Orakpo, Chicago's Julius Peppers and Houston's Mario Williams.

Houck has graded Free higher than any offensive linemen on the team, and that includes two Pro Bowlers in center Andre Gurode and right guard Leonard Davis.

Coach Wade Phillips said Free has performed like a Pro Bowler the first month of the season and noted that the 2007 fourth-round pick from Northern Illinois is gaining confidence.

"Left tackle certainly was something that we were not positive on, but we thought he could do it," Phillips said of the offseason decision.

The Cowboys have plenty of trust in Free in several areas.

When it comes to the running game, Dallas has rushed 22 times toward Free's side and just 16 times to the right side, which was tied for third-fewest in the league heading into the Cowboys' bye in Week 4.

What has helped Free is that quarterback Tony Romo gets rid of the ball quickly, which minimizes the amount of stress Free is under. Dallas also gives Free help in the form of a tight end blocking on a defensive end or outside linebacker. Sometimes a running back will chip the defender to give Free extra time.

At Houston in Week 3, left guard Kyle Kosier knocked down Williams with a block as he was helping Free.

"You have to have confidence," Free said. "You don't know if you can do it until you really get out there and do it. I've had a good first three weeks and stuff, but you've got to play every game. There's a lot of the season left, a lot of talk now. It's great, but a lot of the season is left."

Houck said Free's preparation is beneficial to his game. In Cowboys' practices, he faces DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, two different types of pass rushers who help Free get his game plan together when he faces an opponent.

Ware, a combination of power and speed, gets Free ready for big strong pass rushers such as Peppers and Williams.

Spencer, who is not as tall as Ware but does possess strength and speed, allows Free to get ready for an Orakpo, who is fast.

Of all the offseason decisions the Cowboys made, promoting Free was an interesting one. He played mainly the right side until the playoff loss to Minnesota, when Adams went down with a calf injury.

Free showed the Cowboys he could play a little bit in that game, and it gave the organization confidence it could release Adams.

And in training camp, when Colombo went down with a knee injury, the Cowboys refused to move Free back to the right side and insert Alex Barron to his natural position as a left tackle. Phillips said at the time that Free's status with the club was at left tackle.

"It's a new guy each week," Houck said. "A guy will have a different move he will have to study. He did a good job at what that pass rusher does and what his best moves are and try to practice that. He's [just] graded out extremely well."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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