IRVING, Texas – Randy Gregory admits it. He's taking NFL Pass Rush 101 in these offseason workouts, and Tyron Smith is teaching class.
"I do what I can," Gregory says with a grin, "but he's one of the best tackles in the league. There's only so much you can do."
That's OK. Smith, the Cowboys' two-time All-Pro left tackle, once got a rookie education from an all-time great.
In 2011, DeMarcus Ware – then a five-time All-Pro pass rusher – routinely beat Smith, the ninth overall pick that year, during practice. After practice, Smith turned failures into lessons. He spent extra time learning how to counter Ware's cache of rush moves with his natural balance of power and agility.
"He kicked my butt," Smith said at the 2015 Pro Bowl when he and Ware, now with the Denver Broncos, reunited on Team Michael Irvin. "But he kicked my butt into the shape that I needed to be."
In time, Smith developed to the point where he could share his own advice with Ware. The symbiotic relationship made both into better players.
Fast forward a few years, and the student now can be a mentor. Working with Gregory, arguably the most gifted pass rusher in the NFL's 2015 rookie class, 2014 second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence and the rest of the Cowboys' rushers is a role Smith embraces.
"The best thing you can do is work hard and push each other to basically anything as far as technique-wise. Just the mentality to keep working hard," he said. "For me, it's getting together and working on those small things."
Gregory is a second-round pick with first-round hype, having tallied 17.5 sacks in 24 games at Nebraska. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli sees length and frame similarities between Gregory and Simeon Rice, an elite rusher on Marinelli's Bucs defenses in the early 2000s.
The Cowboys need Gregory to help improve last year's pass rush that ranked 28th in the league with only 28 sacks. With veteran Greg Hardy appealing a 10-game league suspension, Gregory should have a significant role early at right defensive end.
In the non-contact OTA sessions open to the media, he admittedly didn't have much success getting past Smith. Hopefully, he says, practice against one of the league's elite left tackles will make the games seem easier.
"He's everything as advertised," Gregory said of Smith. "He's got some of the best feet I've seen for a guy his size. He knows the little details of the position, even at my position, which makes him better."
Of course, Smith learned a lot of those details from Ware.
The Cowboys assigned Gregory the No. 94 jersey worn by Ware and Ring of Honor inductee Charles Haley. He'll try to make his own way, though, starting with adjustments to the physical grind of NFL competition. He's currently around 243 pounds and hopes to add more weight before the season, which will help him hold up against opposing the run.
Gregory's best asset is his ability to reach opposing quarterbacks. Smith is paid handsomely for his ability to protect Tony Romo against the league's other 31 teams.
Class is now in session.
"He's just been doing it at this level a lot longer than I have," Gregory said. "He knows a lot more of the game than I do, but I think I'm catching on as the days go. Hopefully he's noticing it.
"He makes me better. I haven't really told him that, but he definitely makes me better."