Checking in from the land of "duh" comes this breaking news. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, via several sources including The Mothership, today confirmed what the entire world suspected, the Cowboys will flip their two young tackles to start the 2012 offseason. Last year's first round pick Tyron Smith will be moved over to left tackle, while Doug Free returns to the right side.
"The starting point for us next year is Tyron will start at left tackle and Doug will start at right tackle," Garrett said from the NFL. "The versatility that Tyron had coming out is something we were really attracted to. He was a right tackle in college, as you know, but we felt like he had the physical traits to play left tackle. Same with Doug Free. We felt he could play either side."
Smith was one of the NFL's top rookies in 2011, despite allowing several sacks to some of the NFC East's best pass rushers. The rook allowed eight sacks and 21 QB pressures on the season, according to Pro Football Focus, but still dominated his competition more often than not.
Smith played in all 16 games, accruing over 1,000 snaps during his rookie campaign; all at right tackle. PFF provides a cumulative grading system where they score a player's performance on every play. Smith scored a +13.7 overall (+6.6 pass block, +6.5 run block), good enough to be the fourth best tackle in the league according to their rankings.
More...On the flip side, Doug Free had a down year compared to his first as a full-time starter, 2010. After traveling the path of the mid-round selection (Free was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 draft), Free had worked his way into the starting lineup as a right tackle in 2009 before kicking out left.
In '10, Free only allowed five sacks on the season, and accrued a +17.9 cumulative grade on the season. Playing next to Kyle Kosier, who moved to right guard and next to Smith for '11, he gave the Cowboys so much belief in his future that owner Jerry Jones awarded him with a four-year, $32 million contract last July.
Free answered that contract with a disappointing campaign that saw him relinquish 10 sacks, 34 pressures and countless embarrassing moments. There were rumors and whispers that Free played most of 2011 injured and that was the reason for the performance fall off. Knowing that Jeremy Parnell was the only other tackle on the roster, playing the season injured might be more heroic than any of us will ever know. Free ended the season with a PFF cumulative score of -11.9; good for 53rd in the league. That's a mighty drop from being fourth in the NFL in 2010.
So, will the flip flop take the combo from functionally acceptable to elite in 2012? I'm uber-interested in seeing how Tyron, who is still just 21 years old, returns to the field after his first full off-season with strength and conditioning guru Mike Woicik. He's shown he already has the footwork and hands to handle edge rushers. With a little more upper body power? Scary.
And Free back on the right? Where he won't be tasked with facing the elite speed on an every down basis? Of course teams move their best players around in the same way that Rob Ryan used DeMarcus Ware last year; but the right tackle spot still faces less of a threat than the left side.
Things on the edge look pretty good moving forward. Now Jason, you're in Indy hob-nobbing with the representatives of the free agents and the draft prospects... tell me what you're working on up the middle.