FRISCO, Texas –It feels unusual to question one of the most rock-solid aspects of this Cowboys roster, but it's hard not to wonder about Tyron Smith heading into 2018.
It speaks to Smith's remarkable talent that he was named to his fifth Pro Bowl in 2017, despite battling a litany of injuries that forced him to miss three games – not to mention plenty of practice time.
According to team executive vice president Stephen Jones, though, the Cowboys don't expect Smith's problems to be a long-term issue.
"I think a good offseason here of getting it to where it needs to be, I think we can count – the thing I understand is we can count on Tyron being back to normal and good to go next year," Jones said.
The Cowboys have to be hoping that's the case, given Smith's recent injury history. The California is remarkably young, having just turned 27 despite the fact that he just completed his seventh NFL season.
But this isn't his first fight against injuries. Back problems forced him to miss two games in 2016, and the Cowboys were hopeful he'd battled through those issues – right up until training camp his past summer.
"He has had some different things over the last couple of years that he's dealt with," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "We don't necessarily see it as a trend. He's still a young player. He's played a lot of snaps, but physically he seems to be in good shape beyond the specific injuries that he's had."
All things considered, it's impressive that Smith even played as much as he did, due to the problems he was facing. His back pain began rearing its head all the way back during training camp, and he practiced on a limited regimen for much of the early part of the season.
It was a groin strain that eventually sidelined him, in November, forcing him out of action against Atlanta and Philadelphia. Despite that, Jones pointed out how determined Smith was to play through the pain.
"Not unlike DeMarcus Lawrence was the year before, Tyron is so committed to this team," Jones said. "A lot of players might would've gone ahead and worked on his back and got it where it needed to be versus trying to get through each game and play each game. Certainly, D-Lawrence had done it the year before, last year, and Tyron is so committed to this team and that group of linemen out there. He was doing everything he could to get himself ready."
By the time Smith sprained his LCL in Oakland, enough was enough. He tried to fight through that injury, too, but lasted just three plays in the Christmas Eve game against Seattle.
"I do know this -- he works as hard as anybody in our building to get himself right," Garrett said. "He's had to deal with some things and he's demonstrated mental and physical toughness to get through it."
In his season-ending press conference, Garrett declined to divulge whether Smith would require surgery on any of his injuries. But he shared Jones' outlook that the All-Pro tackle should be fine in the long run.
With all of that said, two years of injuries has to prompt some conversation about the Cowboys' depth at tackle. Chaz Green was drafted in the third round in 2015 to provide depth, but his struggles during Smith's absence – particularly in the 27-7 loss to Atlanta – left a lasting impression. The Cowboys also signed Byron Bell last offseason, and he is once again set to be a free agent.
Which leaves the undeniable truth that, even as optimistic as the Cowboys might feel about Smith, you're only ever one play away from needing depth – at any position in the game.
"We do need to always look at having a third tackle in this league. Certainly Chaz will be back, and we'll see what we do with Byron," Jones said. "But you're always looking to find another young guy in the draft, and you always feel like you need eight good, solid linemen to get through a season. So we'll certainly be looking at that."