NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger breaks down Cowboys OL issues, overall draft class

Former Cowboys offensive lineman and NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger recently joined the Shan and RJ on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM] to evaluate the Eagles’ first-round draft picks and if Dallas offensive line coach Mike Solari can fix Cowboys issues.

Here are some highlights, edited for clarity.

the Cowboys went through seven different offensive line combinations last year, what was holding them up and do you think the Cowboys did enough to address the position in the offseason? can Mike Solari fix the offensive line?

Brian Baldinger: I played for ‘Machine Gun’ Mike Solari. He started his career in Dallas, back in 1987, he was the backup offensive line coach. Just about everywhere Mike’s been he’s had a good offensive line. He was with Pete Carroll for a while in Seattle, they were really good. He was in San Francisco after he left Dallas. I mean, he’s been around the league quite a bit. He’s good, Mike’s a high-energy guy. Nobody’s gonna slack off. But the offensive line issues last year started really with the injuries and so there’s not much you can do. You know, the rookie Tyler Smith was really good, except for the penalties last year. And there’s not much you can do when Terence Steele goes down, your left tackle goes down, I mean, those things you have to adjust. And so, I don’t think they really wanted to sign Jason Peters at age 40 to come in and play but Jason was fine. They just need to get healthy again, I think that’s the biggest issue right now because if Connor McGovern goes in there, left guard, you know, Tyler Smith goes out there to left tackle, I mean, he’s going back and forth. And he was good at both places, he was good, he moved his body, but can Tyler stay healthy? I mean, that’s really the question. If he can stay healthy, they’re gonna be fine. If he can’t, then what are they going to do? How are they going to adjust again this year? But if you look at just the draft, just taking an offensive tackle from North Carolina, as kind of a project, I don’t know if that’s enough considering the injuries they had last year. If they’re just counting on Terence to come in and just nail down the right tackle spot, which he’s more than capable of doing. they’ll be pretty good if he can do that.

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What did you think of the rest of the Cowboys draft class overalls?

Baldinger: Well, I mean, did they draft Mazi Smith because Dalton Kincaid went right in front of him? I don’t know what they were thinking when Buffalo jumped right in front of them and took Dalton Kincaid, was that their target? And okay, if that’s the case, then that happens. You can get snookered in the draft room but you got to kind of know the value of a player and you got to know what’s going on around the rest of the league. So maybe that happened but maybe Luke Schoonmaker is going to be a better player? Schoonmaker’s going to be a better player. DeMarvion Overshown, he was a productive player at Texas for the last three years. They need speed on the inside, especially if they’re gonna move Micah Parsons to the outside more permanently, they need an inside linebacker. They’ve got to do more than right now than just having Leighton Vander Esch and Damone Clark in there at the inside linebacker position so maybe that can help. Viliami Fehoko Jr. was a good player in a bad conference so I’d like to see him against better competition so we’ll see how that is. He looks a lot like Bradlee Anae to me, who they had and didn’t keep at one point a couple of years ago. And then there’s Deuce Vaughn who was highly productive at Kansas State for three years, but it’s just a lot to ask a guy that’s that size to be anything more than a change of pace back at the NFL level. I know he ran through the tackles really well but he doesn’t have elite speed. He doesn’t really have elite quickness. He’s been very productive though, so you can’t argue with that. If it’s a Tony Pollard, Deuce Vaughn one-two punch right now running back I don’t think anybody fears that at all.

A lot of Cowboys fans were upset when the Eagles traded up to snatch Jalen Carter at No. 9 and Nolan Smith at No. 30 in the draft, what do you think of those two picks from Philadelphia?

Baldinger: So the question is, are they true steals? Or are they just overrated to start with? You can go back and watch Jalen Carter from 2021 and it looks like Reggie White out there. Physically throws people around, but you never see him on the field five plays in a row. But you never see any of those guys on the field five plays in a row. And so you go, are they in shape? Are they in condition? Or can you just dominate college football just rotating guys like that? In which they have done, but Jalen Carter got hurt Week One against Oregon last year and had a high ankle sprain that he really struggled through but he played through it. But when you see him healthy there’s just not many people in the NFL right now that can throw bodies around like the way he throws people around, he’s just unusual. I mean, he’s bigger, stronger, faster. Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, you name an elite defensive tackle in this league right now, he already looks physically better than all of them, you just got to learn to position. With Nolan, the Eagles played a five-minute defensive front, for the most part, so Haasan Reddick, it was a perfect defense for him, he barely ever got doubled. And the 49ers put tight ends on him in a playoff game and he knocked out Brock Purdu in the sixth play. You know, it’s a perfect system right now for guys like Haasan Reddick and Nolan Smith, who is basically the comp. That’s basically what Haasan Reddick was coming out of Temple, I mean, except that Nolan Smith is just a lot faster than Hassan Reddick.

There’s a lot of back and forth on if Ezekiel Elliott returns to the Cowboys. Would you bring him back to Dallas as a third-down running back at a veteran minimum?

Baldinger: Well, I don’t know if he’ll do that. I think he’s just waiting to see with injuries and what happens. Philadelphia just basically signed injury-prone backs in Rashad Perry along with the player they just traded up for in the draft, D’Andre Swift. So both those guys have had historical injury but they’re counting on both those guys. So there might be somebody, for example, like that that could shake loose. Anybody that gets hurt preseason, I mean, I don’t think Zeke is gonna sign any kind of minimum right now as much as I’m sure that he would enjoy still playing in Dallas but he’s still their best option as a one-two punch as Tony Pollard gets healthy and comes back from his injury, but it’s a cost to everything and so not at the cost of what Zeke wanted contract-wise so I think he’s better off waiting to see if something else happens out there before he does that something like signing a minimum contract.

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