Offensive Line Flip-Flop

The recent move of Tyron Smith to left tackle should pay huge dividends in the coming seasons. explores why in this in-depth report.

As it turns out, the draft prognosticators were correct after all.

When the Dallas Cowboys selected USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith in the first round of last year's draft, the assumption was nearly universal that the über-athletic Smith would be the team's starting left tackle for a decade or more.

When teams gather in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, coaches and general managers often spend the week showing off their ability to talk without actually saying anything. Reporters often are required to fill their stories with quotes about how teams will "choose the best player available" and "consider all options."

Really? Thanks for the insight.

Dallas head coach Jason Garrett did actually offer a newsworthy note late last month when he announced what everyone assumed would happen, now if not last year. Smith and left tackle Doug Free are switching positions.

Again, it was believed right from the start that Smith was being groomed to take over the left tackle, protecting quarterback Tony Romo's blind side. But when Free performed well enough two years ago to earn a four-year, $32 million contract extension after his first year as a starter, the Cowboys left him on the left side in 2011.

The decision wasn't a disaster, but Free didn't always perform last season like a guy averaging $8 million a season. He was not a human toll booth who allowed every pass rusher a free lane to Romo, but he did allow 10 sacks and was called for 10 penalties.

Smith and Free are not that different in size — at a listed 6-foot-6 and 323 pounds, Free has one inch and 16 pounds on his junior teammate — but their physiques and styles make the switch a logical move.

Despite being the youngest of the Cowboys' starting linemen in 2011, Smith also was, by just about everyone's assessment, the team's best blocker. Free proved in 2009 to be far more mobile than anyone realized, but his game also includes a heavy dose of pure power. Smith, on the other hand, moves like a player 100 pounds lighter. He's fast, quick and light on his feet, if that's really possible for a player on the north side of 300 pounds.

The best athlete on the offensive line needs to be on the quarterback's blind side, and there is no argument that Smith is the Cowboys' most athletic offensive lineman. That kind of player is needed in front of speed rushers on Romo's blind side. Imagine the Dallas offense played the Dallas defense. Who would be best-suited to getting — and staying — in front of a speedy rusher like DeMarcus Ware?

The fact is that the Cowboys handled this transition perfectly. Smith was the best athlete on the Dallas offensive line in 2011, but had he been thrown into the starting lineup at left tackle, he might have been humiliated, or Romo might have gotten hurt. Smith has all of the athletic ability in the world, but he was too raw to take on the most important role on the offensive line.

Fast-forward a year, and the Dallas coaches have every reason to have faith in Smith. He showed in his rookie year that he has the ability to stay in front of some of the NFL's best pass rushers, but that ability was not yet polished. Smith exceeded expectations last year and picked up the blocking schemes quickly.

Now more comfortable in the offense, Smith is ready to make the move to the left side. Thursday's announcement was a reminder that the Dallas front office did the right thing — last year and this year.

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