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Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Battles: Let's Talk Tyron Smith

While we have recently discussed the good news of the Cowboys having a lot of young offensive linemen ...ahhh... that are progressing nicely in the early days of training camp, everyone suddenly started talking about Tyron Smith recently, so it seems only prudent we look at what they are saying and join in on the discussions.

Tyron Smith was drafted in the 1st round and was a top ten pick. Before the draft, the selection was a heavily debated topic here at BTB. Some were worried T. Smith was all potential and physical aesthetics, but not even the best offensive tackle on the board. Many felt he simply wasn't the best player available at #9 or that trading the pick brought with it greater value in the draft. Then there were the ardent supporters (feel free to run a search for T. Smith on my profile for an example and review past post debates). While it is far too early to tell whether Tyron Smith was a "value" pick at #9 in the 2011 Draft, it did bring with it a message, as a two decade trend under Jerry Jones ended, and mounting expectations.

Oddly, Tyron Smith was rarely the lead topic in debates following the draft. With an injured linebacker and somewhat surprising running back selection, not to mention the lack of defensive players, there were far more divisive decisions made and discussed than Tyron Smith. It seems people just stopped talking about him, understanding it would be a while until any real proof was available. Any draft pick requires an offseason to learn more before starting in their first NFL season, even the top ten picks. Perhaps that explains the raging debate that became a whisper. But the first signs are revealing themselves and first impressions are being discussed.

(All box quotes to follow are from Matt Mosley's article as FSSouthWest, and a piece by Bryan Broaddus of ESPN Dallas, both good reads.) 

Considering his draft position, Tyron Smith will inevitably start in 2011. He may only be "penciled in" as starting right tackle, but there likely aren't any erasers handy considering the investment made with the #9 pick. Even though T. Smith isn't technically battling for a starting job, he is certainly in his own camp battles. Expectations, the public eye, the media and critics, Smith is battling all of them, but he likely only really cares about the opinions of the coaches, teammates, and himself. Any player with the potential to be great will only achieve it if he strives to be great (yes, subtle Jason Garrett "be great today" reference, but still true), and past reports are being validated as Smith's good work ethic is on display at Cowboys training camp.

It's become a staple of the Dallas Cowboys' training camp. Long after his teammates have retreated to the locker room, first-round draft pick Tyron Smith remains on the field working on his footwork with veteran offensive line coach Hudson Houck.

Like everyone expected, there are growing pains for Tyron Smith. He has had trouble with NFL speed rushers, outside linebackers with the angle and burst to beat him to the edge. Yet don't worry, T. Smith is still athletically a phenom and he isn't slow off the line by nature. He simply needs to learn (and is working hard at it) the subtle nuances of better technique that will drastically improve his blocking. He is working on things like his kick-step and speed off the line in pass protection, and proper footwork to retain his base through the motions and have the balance to set and block his opponent.

On this day, Houck was working on a simple but important correction that involves the way that Smith kicks away from the line in pass protection and the placement of his feet -- mainly his left foot and the positioning of it when he gets into the engaging area of the defender. The correction that Houck was making is that Smith tends to slide his left toe out and roll on his heel, which throws his positioning off. Houck wants him to keep his foot straight as he slides back so he is better able to adjust on the rusher, thus putting him in a better position to engage and complete the block. 

There are far more details involved in offensive line blocking my dear friends than are dreamt of in most philosophies. Besides footwork, linemen also have to have good upper body strength to punch and hold the blocks, not to mention the leverage to sustain them and the power to drive them back, to finish the play. There are things T. Smith is really good at, but still stuff he has to learn, and thankfully he is putting in the time to improve, in fact, he is working overtime. We won't know for a while if Smith will become a future franchise left tackle, we haven't even seen a snap as right tackle in a NFL game yet, but it is good to hear that Smith is approaching things the right way. Garrett must be pleased.

Recently, coach Houck discussed how pleased he was with having T. Smith as a student and on his offensive line.

"He has great balance, great leg strength, great reach and good speed," said Houck, momentarily letting down his guard. "The only thing he's missing is the knowledge of the offense."

On Thursday, Houck said if he designed the perfect offensive tackle, he would look exactly like Smith. Not that there's any pressure on the kid or anything.

There it is again, the pressure, the expectations. Those will be career-long shadows to most any Dallas Cowboys player, especially a top ten pick. It will require a lot of confidence and poise to handle them (It's nearly impossible to avoid these obvious Garrett references) and to use them as additional motivators instead of burdens. But so far, it seems T. Smith is taking everything in stride, and is improving every day.

One observation that I had about Smith from the press box at practice was he needed to find a way to get away from the line quicker. He has done just that in the last few days. 
Houck also praised him for the position that he is able to get into once he gets engaged. 

So, now that we have reviewed some of the improvements T. Smith needs to make as he becomes an NFL professional, let's take a look at what they are saying about his natural abilities that will help him along his way. Again, coach Houck provided some insight.

He's been asked to make comparisons to his former players, but Houck insists that Smith stands alone when it comes to his size and speed. He has tremendously long arms like Adams, but the fact that he's two inches shorter should give him more leverage. Houck's also blown away with Smith's ability to sustain blocks, which reminds him of Allen.

Also at practice, something I am terribly happy about and hope/expect to see more of in the future, was a former Cowboys great helping to teach the new generation some old tricks.

Former Cowboys Pro Bowl defensive lineman Leon Lett, who is in camp on a coaching fellowship, has been stunned at times by Smith's ability to engulf defenders.

"He has Flozell's arm levers, but he's faster and more fluid than a young Flozell," said Lett. "When he gets those long arms on someone, you rarely see the guy escape."

Tyron Smith still has a long road ahead of him and will face his fare share of adversity as he challenges himself and sets off on his road to greatness. And make no mistake, T. Smith is a driven player set on making himself great. He's not just riding his existing physical ability to the NFL bank. There are some indisputable signs that indicate these people that strive to improve, and when you seek and survive challenges, and when you always want to learn more, you are undoubtedly aiming to become better...and it's good to hear that Tyron Smith is the right kind of guy.  

But at this point in training camp, the Cowboys are throwing everything at him. Houck said that the painfully shy Allen asked a "million" questions because he always wanted to add something to his arsenal. And from the looks of it, Smith's headed down the same path.

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