OT Smith embracing NFL’s learning curve

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Brandon Wade/AP/Shutterstock (13435805jj) Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyler Smith (73) is seen during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, in Arlington, Texas. Dallas won 25-10 Commanders Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 02 Oct 2022

OT Smith embracing NFL’s learning curve

The grind is real, especially for a rookie in the NFL.

So, the bye week could not have come at a better time for Cowboys offensive tackle Tyler Smith.

The Cowboys 2022 first-round draft pick has been playing football or preparing to play the game for the better part of the last 15 months – the 2020 college season, preparing for the NFL draft, NFL rookie camp, Cowboys minicamp, training camp, and now eight weeks into the NFL’s 18-week regular season grind.

And that isn’t the grind of a rookie that plays sparingly, mostly on special teams.

No, that is the grind of an NFL veteran who hasn’t missed a snap this season.

The Cowboys’ offense has snapped the ball close to 500 times this season, and Smith has been at left tackle for every one of them.

And head coach Mike McCarthy knows he and the team are better for it.

“He is just a young guy that he’s just going to keep getting better each week,” McCarthy said. “Physically, he has everything you look for. He has the perfect temperament. He’s an alpha (male). He just needs that continuity and communication, all the things that just come with playing live reps in loud stadiums.”

Despite playing tackle in college, the Cowboys decided that putting him at left guard to start his career would ease him into the rigors of playing offensive line in the NFL.

It couldn’t hurt to have two-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith to his left at the tackle position.

So, Smith took all his preseason reps at guard, prepping to make his debut there against Tampa Bay. That was until Tyron Smith went down with a knee injury that will cost him most of the regular season.

Instead of panicking, the Cowboys moved Tyler Smith out to left tackle, and the Cowboys hit the field in Week 1 against Bucs.

And while the game didn’t go well for the team, it did go well for Tyler Smith, and the rookie has not looked back.

The native of Fort Worth gave up no sacks and had just one penalty – a false start in the second quarter while playing 69 offensive snaps in the first start and game of his NFL career.

“We stay pretty assignment sound,” Smith said. “Coach (Jeff) Blasko and Coach (Joe) Philbin do a good job of giving us our assignments, telling us what they want done week to week.”

Now, seven games later and Smith has started 498 offensive snaps this season, committing seven penalties and allowing four sacks while playing against the likes of Aaron Donald (Rams), Vita Vea (Buccaneers), Javon Hargrave (Eagles), Fletcher Cox (Eagles), Montez Sweat (Commanders) and fellow rookie Aiden Hutchinson (Lions).

“Think about where we were going into the Tampa Bay game, and he has picked it up,” McCarthy said. “He is very, very bright. Very bright in the classroom. His application and work ethic, and all that, is (really good). He just needs to play.”

Despite a solid start to his NFL career, Smith is not satisfied.

He has room for improvement. He knows it, and he seeks it out from teammates and coaches.

“This is year one. There are a lot of improvements to be made in the time to come,” Smith said. “But, just seeing where I came from to where I’m at today is kind of amazing. It can become a blur because we have been at it since December of last year. … Understanding what I want to improve on. What I want to get better at.”

The Cowboys appear committed to giving the 21-year-old what he needs to be successful, even going as far as signing 11-year veteran Jason Peters.

“His type of play is super-efficient to me,” Smith said about Peters. “He’s really assignment sound. He is savvy in everything that he does. So, just those little tips, those little tricks that he gives me really works with my play style and some of the athletic traits I possess. It is just a matter of incorporating them into my game and sharpening other things in my game too.”

The Cowboys added the 9-time Pro Bowler to the room to help the product on the field this season and in the seasons to come with his tutelage of Smith.

But has it worked; the coaches believe so.

“I think Tyler is doing a hell of a job,” McCarthy said. “I’m very happy where he is. … The positive part about it is that our young guys have played a lot of football and have done a lot of really good things. And Tyler, he is probably top of the list.”

Now, after a week off, Smith and the Cowboys get back to work in Green Bay.

And like he did in the preseason, and at the end of training camp, the rookie is ready for the challenge.

“I think I’m doing a lot of good things,” Smith said. “Obviously, in the beginning … I was more tailored for guard – in the preseason, training camp, and things of that nature, I was taking a lot of guard reps. Now I’m taking more tackle reps.

So, improving on the small stuff … I have a much better grasp (today) than I had when I came in here in May. I’m going to continue to make improvements. I don’t think I have achieved anything yet, or that I am where I want to be yet. It is just a continuous path to growth.”

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