Dallas Cowboys left tackle Doug Free faces a big challenge on a huge stage, there's no way around that.
Question is, is there a way around Free?
The Washington Redskins sure will be looking for one Sunday night when they play host to the Cowboys in a season opener at FedEx Field. Free is one of the players in the spotlight, because he replaces longtime blind-side protector Flozell Adams, released in the off-season.
Free moves over to the left side after playing half of last season at right tackle in place of the injured Marc Colombo. It's a daunting task, guarding the back of franchise quarterback Tony Romo.
You can bet the Redskins will put Free to the test, blitzing early and often at the direction of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
"It's definitely a different situation this year," Free, a fourth-round pick in 2007, told DallasCowboys.com. "I'm working to keep a starting position. Last year, I was just filling in. Definitely a little bit more pressure [and] higher expectations for myself."
The Redskins are likely to bombard him with linebackers Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter, both of whom had 11 sacks last season.
Free might not have much experience, but he's more athletic than Adams, who was especially rigid and penalty-prone in recent years. Adams was too expensive and too ineffective to keep.
Free will be the opposite bookend to right tackle Alex Barron, who's replacing the injured Colombo. Although he hasn't been with the Cowboys nearly as long as Free, Barron is vastly more experienced with 74 starts at both tackle spots in the last five seasons with St. Louis.
A lot of Washington's focus will be turning up the heat on Free, just to see how much he — and Romo — can handle.
— Sam Farmer