I thought Rob Phillips wrote a nice piece for DallasCowboys.com Tuesday on the position flip for tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith.
No one was more surprised by the problems Free experienced last season than I was. There were no signs that led me to believe he would be as technique-poor as he was. Free was the most consistent linemen the club had in 2010. He was rock solid in his footwork, punch, and body position, but in 2011, he frankly was a mess. The harder he tried to dig out of his problems, the more rushers were taking advantage of his struggles.
I thought Tyron Smith was going to be the one to struggle, not Free. Smith was a 20-year-old rookie who was put in the starting lineup from the word 'go,' but the one advantage he had was in the Pac-12, he went up against some outstanding rushers.
In 2011, Smith had some moments when he was less than perfect, but where you saw him grow as a player when after the first time he faced Jason Babin with the Eagles. Babin used some moves that left Smith way off balance and fighting just to stay in front of the talented Babin. In the second meeting later in the season, Smith played with patience and poise while Babin tried to turn him inside-out with spin moves. Earlier in the season, Smith would have been blocking air, now he was spot on with his technique.
There were also some outstanding battles with Justin Tuck and Ryan Kerrigan where Smith more than held his own both as a run and pass blocker. Tuck has always been tough to deal with because of his ability to get up the field with an explosive first step, but he is one of the better technqiue-playing defensive ends in the league. Kerrigan was an outstanding pass rusher while in college at Purdue and has carried that over with him to the Redskins.
One advantage the Cowboys have in making this switch is that Free has played as a right tackle in this league and did it very well while he filled in for an injured Marc Colombo in 2009. The footwork, angle of the rusher and punch will be different for Free, but again it's something he has done before.
Smith was a right tackle in college at USC and, as we all know, played right tackle in 2011. The same adjustments that Free is going to have to make on the right side, Smith will have on the left. One of my memories from the 2011 training camp in San Antonio was Smith with then offensive line coach Hudson Houck after each practice working on his footwork, getting away from the line until it was perfect. I don't see this as a problem and, as a matter of fact, I have already spoken to someone who has been with Smith while he is making this switch and the comment I received was that he is "a natural."
Not that Jerry Jones or Jason Garrett need my blessing, but I like the position switch of Free and Smith for two reasons.
Putting Free back on the right side will refocus him on playing with sharper technique at a position where he has had some success. Smith on the left side gives you an athletic, powerful player that has the ability to adjust to any type of rusher lining up on that side.
In this division, you had better be able to do that.