FRISCO, Texas – What a surreal bit of synergy this turned out to be, as the dialogue in 2022 is picking up where 2021 left off: a discussion about penalties.
With all due respect to Tyler Smith, who realized his NFL dream by becoming the Cowboys' first-round pick on Thursday night, there is a familiar talking point emerging here.
The Cowboys' entered this 2022 NFL Draft with a glaring need at left guard because of the departure of Connor Williams, who hit free agency six weeks ago after a disappointing season saw him flagged 15 times on the year.
Enter Smith, who is unquestionably talented, but was flagged to the tune of 16 penalties himself last fall at Tulsa.
"I'm definitely aware of his performance last year, but they're definitely two different topics in my view," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on Thursday night. "Obviously, playing in Tulsa and obviously our team this year, I really don't see any correlation to it."
Regardless of whether or not it's fair, it's a narrative that Smith will face in the early going of his career. The Cowboys' offensive line struggled throughout the second half of last season, and penalties were a huge part. Across 17 regular season games and a playoff loss, Dallas offensive linemen were flagged 59 times for an average of three penalties per game.
Smith's track record in college might be concerning, but the Cowboy seem to view those as coachable issues. The Fort Worth, Texas, native just turned 21 earlier this month, and he played just 25 games during a COVID-impacted college career.
"Some of his mistakes are of an aggressive nature," McCarthy said. "Those are the ones...you'd rather be dealing with combative one that he can learn from."
On the plus side, Smith seems to recognize the work that needs to be done. He said moments after his selection that playing with a mean streak is his motto as a player. He also noted that he looks forward to taking coaching.
"I'm an extremely physical player; extremely athletic and gifted. The effort is always there, the intensity and the chip on my shoulder that I play with," he said.
It'll be fun to watch exactly how the Cowboys approach this situation. Team chief operating officer Stephen Jones held off on declaring him a Day 1 starter, while McCarthy added that he'll get work at both left guard and left tackle.
Either way, he'll have plenty of experience to draw from, with offensive line coach Joe Philbin joined in the meeting room by perennial All-Pros Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, not to mention a two-year starter in Terence Steele.
"I'm always working every day. I feel like working with guys like Tyler Smith and Zack Martin is only going to get me better every day as well," Smith said. "I'm going to constantly be working and accepting coaching so I can get where I need to be."
Fixing the penalty issue was already a focal point for this offensive line in 2022, as McCarthy noted. It's sure to be a point of emphasis with its newest member.