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August 8, 2013

Guarding Romo becoming a concern for Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. — Tony Romo drew plenty of laughs when he joked on the first day of training camp that his offensive line looked good “running up and down the sideline.”

It’s getting to the point where it’s not funny for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas has had injury problems at guard since training camp started more than two weeks ago. And now the Cowboys are in serious pursuit of a veteran.

They’ve already been turned down once. Former New York Jets lineman Brandon Moore decided not to sign with the Cowboys on Wednesday, a day after the 10-year veteran tentatively agreed to a deal.

The Cowboys didn’t want Moore as a fill-in. They wanted the 33-year-old to start before he told them he was planning to retire.

Both of last year’s starting guards, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, have missed significant time at training camp. Livings might not be ready for the regular season after two surgeries on his right knee in six months.

“We’re pretty depleted on the offensive line right now,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “You just try to address the needs where you have them.”

Livings missed the first week of camp with a cut on his foot, and was just days into this return when the surgically repaired knee that also bothered him in offseason workouts flared up again.

Bernadeau didn’t even make it to the first workout. He strained a hamstring in the pre-camp conditioning test and missed two weeks. He returned last week and could play in the second preseason game Friday night at Oakland.

But the pursuit of Moore — and the continuing pursuit of someone else after his change of heart — made it clear the Cowboys aren’t counting on Livings and Bernadeau just a year after signing both as free agents.

“I think the fact that they’re limited, they’ve had injury, they’ve been out of camp, they were out of the preseason,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I think that you could say yes that had something to do with it. That and the fact we’re relatively young in there.”

Romo could have two new starting guards for the second straight year, not to mention a rookie center in Travis Frederick. One of those guards could be Ron Leary, a second-year player who was undrafted out of Memphis in part because of chronic knee problems.

Leary also missed the start of camp because of a back problem.

If Leary and Frederick are starters for the season opener Sept. 8 against the New York Giants, it will be the first NFL game for both. Even if Livings and Bernadeau are ready, there’s a chance somebody not on the roster right now will be on the depth chart ahead of them.

“I think you have to recognize that you’ve got a young group,” Jones said. “If we bring in a substantive veteran, it will be about him more than a couple of the things that we would be looking at.”

Jones said the Cowboys were looking to give Romo an “extra half-second” of protection when they passed on chances to upgrade their defensive line in the draft and traded down to get Frederick at No. 31.

Then Livings and Kevin Kowalski, a backup guard, went down about the same time at camp, forcing Dallas to add two linemen in one day. One was James Nelson, who was living just 10 minutes from training camp after Dallas decided not to sign him following rookie camp in May.

But Nelson was seen as just camp filler. Things have changed now.

“It’s always urgent,” Garrett said. “It was urgent in the offseason leading up to the draft. It was urgent after that. And it’s getting more and more urgent as you get closer to the games. The injuries have been the biggest issue.”

They’re getting serious enough that Romo probably won’t be joking about them anytime soon.

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