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Scout’s Eye: Smith, Free Spurred The Progress On OLine

Posted Jan 14, 2014


IRVING, Texas -- Scout’s Eye takes a look at the Offensive Tackles:

If there was a position group that played with ideal consistency throughout the year, it had to be these Cowboys offensive tackles.

There were so many questions about this offensive line and whether Tyron Smith would ever become the elite left tackle he was drafted to be. There were also questions whether it would have been good just to go ahead and release Doug Free and start over at right tackle.  

The plan the front office and coaches went with after the season was to try and reduce Free’s salary, which they were able to do -- a nice deal on both sides. They then tried to continue their plan from the end of the 2012 season, which was to split Free’s snaps with Jermey Parnell.

Where this plan was sidetracked was when Parnell hurt his knee in the minicamps and OTA’s, thus losing reps to Free.  The veteran improved each day to the point that it was clear Parnell would be the backup going into camp in Oxnard and that battle was never close. Free took the job and never looked back.

On the other side, Smith was under attack from DeMarcus Ware, who was beating him with alarming ease. There were days when Smith looked like he was a rookie free agent that had never set foot on a NFL practice field.

When Smith did win, the first thought that came to my mind was ‘What did Ware do wrong?’ If you want a turning point for the growth in Tyron Smith from what we had observed from 2012 to where he currently is, it was those failures that he had on a daily basis with DeMarcus Ware.

What those days taught him was the importance of playing with better technique. No matter how much talent we all thought he had, it didn’t matter. If he didn’t play with what Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack were trying to teach him every day, he really wasn’t going to have a chance for success.

Both Smith and Free came out of the blocks and were outstanding. Smith was especially good opening night against Jason Pierre-Paul, and he continued to build on that to the point that he was selected to his first Pro Bowl after the 2013 season.

It didn’t matter who Smith was facing, he was able to take his opponent out of the game. As a pass blocker, he did a much better job of handling those inside rushers who gave him trouble. He did a much better job of not setting so wide, which allowed him to work back to cut off that type of rush.

Free was also better in his pass set. When he got in trouble, it was when his hands missed on the punch and got too wide. He did a much better job of having his feet and hands working together, which resulted in better blocking position.  

As a group, this line improved as run blockers, and a large part of that was due to the fact that both Smith and Free did an outstanding job of working with these tight ends and guards. There were several plays this season where these backs had room to run because of what Smith and Free were able to do at the point of attack and how they set the edge.

Where they also had productive snaps were on the backside in the zone scheme where they were able to cut defenders off from chasing the play.

Looking forward, both Smith and Free should be back as the starters, but for me, this is where it gets interesting. I mentioned Jermey Parnell as a guy that was battling Doug Free for a spot in the starting lineup but that didn’t work out for him. Parnell was used during the season as the extra blocker on short yardage and goal line situations but going into 2014, he will have some competition for his spot from Darrion Weems.

If you liked what you saw from Ronald Leary this season, Weems has taken the same route. He spent the entire season on the inactive list while working on the scout team. This allowed Weems to grow and develop his technique in an effort to give him a better opportunity in the coming year. What is interesting about Weems is that he also had some work as well at guard which I was told, he played respectably.

Look for this front office to add another young tackle to the roster as a draft pick or through college free agency to work as a backup and to be paired with Weems to add depth to the position.  

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