Gone are the days when NFL teams in need of a tackle found the largest available behemoth and stuck him in the lineup, regardless of how much mobility he has.
Now teams look for true athletes along the line, especially at the tackle positions, and the Dallas Cowboys got the most athletic tackle in the draft Thursday when they selected USC's Tyron Smith with the ninth overall selection.
Smith measured 6-foot-5 and weighed 307 pounds at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Heading into the 2010 season, some viewed Smith as undersized for the position, as he weighed only 280 pounds. But he has bulked up over the last year, and it's good weight. He boasts a chiseled physique that shows his time in the weight room, not the cafeteria; at USC's Pro Day, he bench pressed the NFL-standard 225 pounds 31 times. It's hard to call anyone on the north side of 300 pounds "light on his feet," but Smith is absurdly quick and agile for a big man. In addition, he has exceptionally long arms and enormous hands — ideal traits for an offensive tackle.
USC's was the only Pro Day Dallas head coach Jason Garrett attended in person, and he didn't head best to walk along the beach or to watch Blake Griffin put on a dunking exhibition. He went specifically to see Smith, and clearly he liked what he saw.
Smith is just 20 years old, so it's a safe assumption that he'll continue to bulk up as he physically matures. But there's no question Smith earned his spot in the draft: a first-team All-Pac-10 honoree and named the conference's best offensive lineman.
Selecting Smith broke tradition for the Cowboys, to say the least. Dallas hadn't selected an offensive lineman in the first round since 1981, before Jerry Jones bought the team. But there was no way to deny that shoring up the offensive line was a priority for the Cowboys. Starting right tackle Marc Colombo has had durability issues over the last couple of years, and left tackle Doug Free — a pleasant surprise in 2010, his first year as a starter — is a free agent once the league's owners and players reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The Cowboys needed another tackle even if Free and Colombo both return, and there is no assurance they both will.
Smith has very good size and strength — "once he gets his hands on you, it's over," one Pac-10 defender said — but where he separates from the other players at the position is with his quickness. Smith is able to kick out and slide to mirror speed rushers, and if he sheds on defender, he can get into the second level of a defense as fast as any tackle anywhere. Smith also seems to relish contact and overpowering a would-be tackler, and has a nasty edge when he plays.
Even if Free stays, there already is speculation that Smith could be inserted into the starting lineup — meaning he would be protecting quarterback Tony Romo's blind side — which would allow Free to flip back over to the right side. That will depend on whether Free stays with the Cowboys, of course, and on Smith's ability to pick up the blocking schemes in the Dallas offense. But he already is the best athlete at his position and a very productive player, and virtually everyone who has seen him thinks he'll get bigger and stronger as he matures, and that he could be a mainstay on either end of the offensive for about a decade.
CowboysHQ Top Stories
Cowboys Ex Greg Hardy Arrested On Drug ChargeFish Kept Calling It The 'Uptown Flu' ... And Now Some Added Insight, Maybe As Cowboys Ex Greg Hardy Is Arrested On Drug Charges
CowboysHQYesterday at 4:34 PM
Cowboys Top Bears: The 'Rise of the Bease'Five different Cowboys QBs can't be wrong, right? Not when they all put their trust in Cole Beasley, now the Cowboys' No. 2 wide receiver.
CowboysHQYesterday at 6:22 AM
Youth Helps Cowboys Hurdle Bears, 31-17The Cowboys took care of the Bears 31-17 to finish September with a 2-1 record while dropping Chicgo to 0-3. Dallas' kids, and Dallas' health, are the big takeaways.
CowboysHQSunday at 8:58 PM
Cowboys T. McClain + His Pal - His Big ToeARLINGTON - In preparation for tonight's Bears at Cowboys game, I go 1-in-1 with maybe Dallas' best player on D, Terrell McClain - and his new best friend, his so-far-cooperative…
CowboysHQSunday at 6:34 AM