DENVER – Without a doubt, there were probably thousands of people watching Saturday's game who want to talk about Tyler Smith and the holding penalties.
Yes, that happened, and it's something we've been warned about since he was drafted.
But for me personally, it's time for the Cowboys to stop holding Smith – as in holding him back.
Smith made his debut Saturday night against the Broncos in an ugly, one-sided loss in Denver. But what's apparent to me is that this rookie offensive lineman clearly needs more reps.
All of training camp I've wondered out loud just why the Cowboys are splitting reps with Smith and Connor McGovern at left guard. And then Saturday night, in the opener, they throw Smith out there to take the entire first half with McGovern playing right guard in place of Zack Martin.
OK, so can this experimental period come to an end? Obviously, the Cowboys drafted Smith in the first round so they can make him a starter, preferably right away. And if Saturday was any indication, he's just not getting enough snaps.
Forget the two penalties – for now – and let's focus on the one play that stood out the most to me. In the first quarter, Smith and center Tyler Biadasz miscommunicated on the line and the Broncos came busting through for a pressure on Cooper Rush, who hurried the throw that led to an interception.
Maybe it was Smith who blocked the wrong guy and didn't slide the protection to the right. And maybe it was Biadasz who missed the blitzer. Either way, those two guys need to be working together. That's what training camp is for, right? Especially on the offensive line, where continuity is so important.
I've asked different coaches and players about this, and no one seems to have a great answer here. There are some who think McGovern has to get his share of snaps, especially if Tyron Smith is going to miss some games at left tackle. And then some will tell you that they don't want to just throw Smith into the fire in a sink-or-swim situation.
But that's basically what they did on this night. Smith hasn't played a lot of continuous snaps and then in his first game, in the altitude and under the bright lights, he plays the entire first half.
Now, let's look at the holding penalties. What got him in trouble at Tulsa were the times his hands were too far outside. That's exactly what the officials are looking for to call a holding penalty. And that's what seemed to happen to Smith a couple of times Saturday night.
Personally, those both were questionable. And yes, overall the penalties were a huge problem and an extension of an Achilles heel from last year.
But specifically with Smith, I think they were borderline. He wasn't getting beat, but it was more about hand placement.
Honestly, I think Tyler Smith had a very encouraging night. Yes, the penalties were there, but he also had his share of dominant blocks. He was moving people in the trenches. His strength has been evident in practice and it showed up again in this first game.
I remember talking to his college coach at Tulsa, Philip Montgomery, after Smith was drafted, and the coach said that he felt about half of the holding penalties were a result of his dominant nature and just mauling defenders to the ground.
In this game, I sort of saw what he was talking about. Not all refs are going to call holding on those plays, but then again, it's all about the hands.
To me, Smith is going to be a special player. He's got the strength and the quick feet, he just needs to work on that technique.
And the time to do that is in practice. I applaud the Cowboys for easing him into the situation during the summer and first part of camp, but as we start to ramp this up and get into the start of the season, Smith needs to play.
I think the Cowboys need to start getting him all the reps at left guard, let him play next to Biadasz and Tyron Smith. That's how he's going to get ready, and that's going to get him prepared for Sept. 11 against the Buccaneers.
More than anything, it's time to take these training wheels off the rookie and let him ride.