FRISCO, Texas — La’el Collins has never played right tackle, but the former LSU standout is embracing his recent move there.
“It’s a big adjustment. ... But for the most part, I’ve just got to stay locked in to what I got to do, take it one play at a time,” he said Wednesday during organized team activities with the Dallas Cowboys.
In a productive four years at LSU, Collins played left guard and left tackle. In his rookie year of 2015 with the Cowboys, the 23-year-old former Redemptorist High player started some at left guard. Last season, he won the starting job over fellow Baton Rouge native Ronald Leary.
In March, Leary signed a four-year, $36 million contract with Denver. Collins was sad to see his friend depart, but he was also happy to see Leary get paid.
“Man, it was sad because Ron’s a good player, a good guy — especially a good guy in the locker room,” Collins said. “But, hey, I don’t think he’s complaining at all.”
In October, Collins lost his starting spot when a torn ligament on his right big toe landed him on injured reserve, ending his season. With Doug Free, the starting right tackle, retiring this spring, Dallas had a vacancy, so they decided to give Collins the first shot. Collins will battle newcomer Byron Bell, who has 78 games of NFL experience, and Chaz Green, a third-round pick in 2015 from Florida who has battled injuries and only played a handful of games, for reps there.
One positive associated with the move: It allowed Collins to play next to right guard Zack Martin, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and a player Collins feels pushes everyone around him to raise their level.
Collins considers himself blessed to play on an offensive line among the NFL’s best, a group that also features center Travis Frederick and left tackle Tyron Smith as starters. They have been to a combined seven Pro Bowls.
“Man, it’s amazing. I’ve never been a part of a group like these guys, guys that just know how to work, come in every day, get it done,” he said. “These guys have showed me how to be a pro. I just take what they showed me, and I apply it every day.”
Even though Collins’ transition is in the preliminary stages, Dallas offensive line coach Frank Pollack is encouraged by what he has seen.
“It’s still early, but I see a guy who’s grinding and working his butt off to get better and try to make the transition mentally in the classroom and physically on the field as far as techniques,” Pollack said. “He’s doing a nice job working hard.”
Dallas usually dresses seven offensive linemen, so having versatile players like Collins is crucial. Collins said he feels the experience he has gained at left guard along with the lessons he has learned from working closely with Pollack and other coaches — not to mention playing alongside some of the NFL’s best linemen — give him ample experience to handle such a big change.
“It’s good. Experience is the best (thing) you can have. When you understand footwork, hand placement and just how to play football at this level, then you can really apply it to any position,” he said. “Having the coaches that we have, that’s what really helps. And having (Frederick, Martin and Smith) with me, just picking those guys’ brains, it’s like having coaches on the field with me at all times.”