Tyron Smith- It’s funny to think there was concern about Smith’s prospects as a starting left tackle during training camp last season, given the way he struggled to contain DeMarcus Ware during team practices. That’s a distant memory now, as Smith emerged as a rock wall on Tony Romo’s blindside. After some early miscues in the first half of the season, he enjoyed a dominant second half, shutting down the likes of Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Brian Orakpo and Jason Pierre-Paul. In the process, he earned himself his first bid to the Pro Bowl. Doug Free- Much like Smith, Free was seen as a liability entering 2013, but he silenced those critics with his play during the season. Normally a quiet figure, Free was thrust into the spotlight last offseason when it became clear the Cowboys intended to reduce his hefty contract. Rather than seek employment elsewhere, Free agreed to a team-friendly deal for the final two years of his career. He rebounded nicely from the scrutiny with a solid 2013 season and has set himself up well for a contract year in 2014. Jermey Parnell- Free struggled in 2012, and on top of that, he platooned with Parnell at the right tackle spot during the tail end of the season. Given those two facts, there was some thinking that Parnell could replace Free as the Cowboys’ starting right tackle last season. It was expected to be a heated position battle heading into training camp – but that was before Parnell injured his hamstring at the outset of camp. He eventually returned, but he could never regain the ground. He did, however, appear in all 16 games as a member of the Cowboys’ heavy and goal line sets. Darrion Weems- As a promising young prospect, Weems made the Cowboys’ 53-man roster as the fourth offensive tackle last season. That was about it, though. Last season was Weems’ first full season with the team, but he didn’t appear in a single game. In fact, Weems was a regular on the team’s inactives list. John Wetzel- Wetzel worked his way onto the Cowboys’ practice squad during the second half of 2013 after he was waived by Oakland during training camp. The rookie tackle was placed on the practice squad on Nov. 12 and has hung around to this point. That’s pretty impressive when you consider the constant fluctuation of the Cowboys’ roster as a result of injuries last year. Darius Morris- Morris was signed during Organized Team Activities to replace injured rookie free agent Jarrod Pughsley. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Houston in 2011, but he never played a down before he was released. He wasn’t on a roster last year. Josh Aladenoye- Aladenoye is the only true rookie among the Cowboys’ tackles, as he was one of the 24 undrafted rookies to sign following the NFL draft. He spent three years with Oklahoma before transferring to Illinois State, where he started every game of his two years with the Redbirds at left tackle.
Scout’s Take – Bryan Broaddus on what he’s looking for in 2014: I believe for this offensive line to continue on that path of becoming one of the top groups in the NFL, Doug Free is going to have to play like he did in 2013 and not like he did the two seasons prior to that. Playing in this zone scheme for Free is tailor-made for his skill as a run blocker, but where he made his biggest improvement was with his pass sets and playing with much better technique. When Free is on with that technique, he can be a hard man to defeat because of his ability to use his feet and reach. There is also extra incentive for Free to play well due to his contract being up after the 2014 season, and I am hearing whispers that the front office is keeping a very close eye on that situation.