Tyron Smith is moving quickly up the offensive line ladder for the Dallas Cowboys. He gave the Cowboys a great rookie season. Now, he's moving from right tackle to left tackle, as Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett announced at the NFL combine on Thursday.
Smith did as well as a right tackle could do in his rookie season coming off a shortened training camp and no rookie camp, the casualties of the work stoppage. He started all 16 games and was the best player on the Cowboys' offensive line. That doesn't say a great deal about Smith since the Cowboys offensive line didn't do very well.
As Smith's rookie year progressed, he caught people's attention. Bryan Broaddus of ESPNDallas/Fort Worth said, "Day after day, he worked on his craft, and it carried into his play."
Former offensive line coach Houston Houck told an ESPN radio show in Dallas:
This is an extremely talented guy. When you take a look at him being 20 years old to start and not being able to have a minicamp and not being able to have OTAs and come in cold turkey and just be able to start for a team in the National Football League against very, very good players, this guy has done incredible things up to this point.
No one can deny that Smith has done great things as Houck said. Still, the Cowboys had no choice but to start Smith from day one last season. This offseason, Garrett recognized that he had no choice but to switch Smith and Doug Free, who had been playing left tackle, for 2012.
Free had a down year in 2011. He didn't stop rushers consistently from week to week. His technique wasn't there.
Will the Cowboys be better able to protect Romo with Tyron Smith at left tackle?
Perhaps it was the curse of being handed a meaty four-year, $32 million extension.
Garrett recognized that he had to make the switch to put his top performing lineman in the most important position. This was clear as Garrett stated in his announcement:
The versatility that Tyron showed us coming out is something we were really attracted to. He was a right tackle in college, as you know, but we feel like he has the physical traits to play left tackle. Same with Doug Free. We felt he could play either side.
Garrett really said that he loves Smith's talent, and he's more certain about Smith's ability than that which Free possesses. Since Smith is more talented and performed better last season, he felt compelled to make the switch. It's not an issue of whether they could play either side, but who seemed more capable of anchoring the line.
Garrett is entrusting Smith to take the lead in protecting Tony Romo. The Cowboys did poorly last season keeping Romo healthy and on his feet. Romo was the sixth-most sacked quarterback in 2011, taking 36 sacks and going down in 6.5 percent of his pass dropbacks.
He suffered a broken rib and punctured lung in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers. In Week 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Romo bruised the back of his throwing hand when he accidentally slapped the helmet of a defender after passing the ball.
Smith, who turned 21 in December, is stepping up to a big task. He's leading the pass blocking for a Cowboys team that passed 60 percent of the time last season. Hopefully, Smith will be able to rise up to the challenge.