Smith confident in switch to left tackle
IRVING, Texas -- If the Cowboys are going to reach the playoffs in 2012 the offensive line will likely have to be better at controlling the line of scrimmage.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Cowboys' offensive line ranked 16th in run-blocking, 15th in pass protection and 20th in penalties in 2011. While the interior of that offensive line is the biggest question mark, the outside is going through a significant transition as well.
Doug Free is moving back to the right tackle spot after lining up at left tackle the last two seasons. The Cowboys' top 2011 draft pick, Tyron Smith, will move to the left side for the first time since 2008, his freshman year at USC.
"It's not very complicated at all," Smith said of the switch. "You just got to convert everything you did on the right side over to the left side."
"I can play either side," Free said last week. "I'm not going to say I'd rather play left or right or whatever. Whatever they want me to do I'm going to do and do my best at it."
There's a stereotype in football that the left tackle position is more difficult because that side faces the most dominant pass rushers. However, that is no longer the case in the NFL, a league where both sides face elite defenders.
Smith says protecting Tony Romo's blind side won't be that different as long as he continues his regimen of focusing on fundamentals, improving technique and studying when he's away from Valley Ranch. The former ninth overall pick says he's a homebody that enjoys keeping a low profile and studying the playbook before going to sleep each night. We're also talking about a 21-year-old that attributes his work ethic to his first job, helping his family's cleaning service, which he started at age of 5.
"The more and more you do it, it just kind of fits in and kind of becomes second nature to you," Smith said of the transition to left tackle. "I know a lot of people expect a lot of things from a left tackle so I'm basically trying to not disappoint."
Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan doesn't see why Free and Smith can't successfully swap positions. Callahan, who has said he's "never had anybody like" Smith in terms of his athleticism, size and strength, recently spoke highly of Free's ability to move back to the position he played in 2009, saying right tackle is Free's "most natural side."
"He can play anywhere along the line, we've got that type of confidence in him," Callahan said of Free. "He's going to get challenged just like Tyron is going to get challenged. But he certainly has the ability to take people on and do well."
Before becoming the Cowboys' offensive line coach in January, Callahan served in the same capacity with the New York Jets. Over those four seasons, Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson reached the Pro Bowl three times.
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