By CALVIN WATKINS / The Dallas Morning News
SAN ANTONIO - Andre Gurode was a man fighting for a job last season.
First he had to compete with Al Johnson in training camp to become the starting center, and then coach Bill Parcells constantly rode him to prepare him to be the anchor of the offensive line.
Gurode responded in his contract season by winning the job and becoming a leader on offense.
He even survived getting stomped in the face, an incident that left him with several cuts that, in all, required 30 stitches to close.
He allowing four sacks, was called for holding only twice and had one false-start penalty.
In the off-season, the Cowboys awarded him with a six-year, $30 million contract with a $10 million signing bonus.
Considering all he went through last season, Gurode might be tempted to exhale this year, thinking his place on the team is secure.
"I tried to stay exactly the same," Gurode said. "I still have a lot to improve on and just have to get better.
"Most people would expect you to relax and get kind of laid-back. But you have a little time to enjoy [the new contract] and then you have to get back to work."
During training camp practices this week, Gurode has been pushing guys around the line of scrimmage.
"Andre is a pretty driven guy," assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tony Sparano said. "He reported in great shape. This guy came back to the facility almost every day. His focus has impressed me the most."
Gurode is the key to an offensive line that added Leonard Davis as a free agent to replace Marco Rivera at right guard.
Nerve damage to Rivera's lower back and legs and the uncertainty of his return from surgery led the Cowboys to cut him in June.
Gurode said he learned a lot from Rivera in terms of making line calls, blocking technique and behaving like a professional.
"It's a big deal having a guy like that with the team," Gurode said of Rivera. "We still stay in contact with him and he's a real good guy. Since his absence I study a little bit more and if there's something I don't understand, I still call him because he's still around studying film."
Several players noted that Gurode has embraced his role as leader on the line. He's put in long hours in the film room at Valley Ranch.
In practice this week, the offensive linemen must push an 11-pound ball forward to help with their coordination against the pass rush.
"Andre has been huge since he's taken over that role as a leader," tight end Jason Witten said. "We will see Andre play at a high level consistently and he and Tony Sparano have a great relationship and I think by doing that now he knows what he's doing."