After earning a spot in the lineup, players endure their first interceptions and penalties, and enjoy their first receptions, sacks and touchdowns.
For Dallas Cowboys rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, the "firsts" included a selection in the first round, a starting role in the team's first game of the season, a first pancake block and first sack allowed as an NFL player.
Now he is getting ready for a couple more firsts: his first game played with just three days of rest, and his first game on Thanksgiving Day when the Cowboys host the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium.
"I'm excited," Smith said. "You grow up playing football and watching football, and the Dallas Cowboys' game is a part of Thanksgiving. It's a tradition."
Instead of focusing on the tradition of playing a game in front of a national television audience, Smith understandably is more concerned with the Miami defense.
The Dolphins can be looked at in two ways: a 3-7 team that limped out of the starting blocks with seven consecutive losses, or a team riding a three-game winning streak during which its defense has yet to allow an opposing team to score in double digits (Miami beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-3; the Washington Redskins, 20-9; and the Buffalo Bills, 35-8).
"They're a good team, especially on defense, and they're playing really well now," Smith said. "When you watch them on film, you can tell they're a ‘going hard' team. They always play hard on every play. They hustle and they swarm the ball. You talk about guys with a high motor … well, this is a whole defense with a high motor. They just don't stop with the pass rush."
That pass defense is led by a pair of stellar young defensive players — third-year outside linebacker Cameron Wake, who has a team-high 5.5 quarterback sacks, and second-year defensive end Jared Odrick, who has 4.0 sacks — as well as the ageless Jason Taylor, the former star Miami defensive end who left via free agency but has returned as an outside linebacker, and also has contributed four sacks.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said he didn't think he would pare down his offensive game plan because of the short week, other than to acknowledge that the plan would have to be tailored to fit the lower number of practice reps his team will have during the short work week. Likewise, Smith said he doesn't expect the Dolphins to employ a simplified defensive approach, meaning he and the Dallas offense will have to put in extra time preparing for the Miami defense.
"There's not a lot you can do," Smith said when asked how his work schedule will be affected by the shorter week. "They're going to do what they do, and we have to be ready for it. We have to study as much film as possible and prepare as much as we can."
Smith, who won't turn 21 years old until the second week of December, said he normally gets to Tuesday each week before the soreness from the previous game starts to dissipate. Some of his older teammates said it sometimes takes them until as late Thursday each week; this week, they will be afforded no such luxury.
While doing everything he can to allow his body to heal from Sunday's win over the Redskins and preparing for the Dolphins, Smith said he plans to enjoy his first Thanksgiving game.
"You try to take it like any other game," Smith said. "You have to do your best to not get distracted by everything that goes along with playing on Thanksgiving."
Smith said his family — his parents, his grandmother, his brother and his sister — will be in town to celebrate the holiday with him and watch the game against the Dolphins. He'll enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with his family after the game … and quickly admitted that he is not responsible for cooking for his family.
"No way," he said. "I'm the food taster. That's my only job once the game is over."
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