It's Tyron Smith's 23rd birthday, and there are no balloons or birthday cakes at his locker.
He is in the building, though. After a December practice with the rest of his teammates, he's just another body among many. He waltzes out and to the training room as most of the media walks in, then while everyone is fixated on Tony Romo and Sean Lee, he slides quietly back toward his locker minutes later.
It's difficult to miss the 6-foot-5 left tackle who weighs in at more than 300 pounds, but that's only based on sight, not sound. He's not demanding the cameras or an interview. The potential Pro Bowler could easily be mistaken for a practice squad player in this setting. The juxtaposition of locker room, off-the-field Tyron and the behemoth turning into one of the league's best left tackles is mesmerizing.
See him in the locker room, and he commands little attention. See him on the field, and he commands the attention of every coach, coordinator and defensive end he faces.
"I've had some really good tackles in my career, and he ranks right up there," says offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. "He's played at, I think, a Pro Bowl level on many occasions. He's become more consistent in his play, and he's gone against some of the best pass rushers in the league. To his credit, he's worked tremendously hard. He's deserving of anything that comes his way. I certainly hope that the fans and people who follow the NFL vote him as a player to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl."
Count that as the third different coach or player bringing up Pro Bowl consideration for Smith.
"There's no question in my mind," Garrett says of his left tackle deserving a Pro Bowl selection. "He's a fantastic player."
Romo added to that, saying he hopes people recognize just how well Smith is performing this season.
Of course, ask Smith about how well he's doing, and the first words that leave his mouth center around the entire offensive line and how the whole group has come a long way from training camp.
No doubt, that group is meshing into one of the most formidable lines the Cowboys have had in recent memory with the addition of center Travis Frederick and guard Ron Leary, who in their own rights have come a long way in their first full seasons.
"I think we're really starting to come together," Frederick says. "As far as where we are now in comparison to where we have been, I feel like we're playing as physical or more physical than we have been in the past."
It's odd for Smith, who first came into the league as a 19-year-old, to now be the veteran of the group. But he's already helped turn a once-stagnant running game into a legitimate threat in recent weeks.
The Cowboys rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games, Weeks 12-14, due in large part to the left tackle, leading many to champion him as deserving of an all-star invite.
Even if he won't say so himself.
"To be honest with you, I'm not even trying to focus on that right now," Smith says. "I'm trying to focus on what, as a team, we've got to get done for the rest of this season. If it does happen, it happens. As a team, we're just trying to be balanced in the run and pass game."
But press a little more, and the veteran who is in his second season on the left side after spending his rookie campaign at right tackle, opens up about why he thinks his game has gone from that of hopeful prospect to borderline elite tackle in less than a year. He's already dealt with multiple offensive line coaches and is now getting critiqued by two in Callahan and assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack.
Those coaches have undoubtedly helped Smith, as has former Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen, who'll throw generic tidbits his way like, "Be more aggressive," or, "Punch this guy," as Smith recalls.
But it was the player who dismantled him at times during training camp that Smith truly credits for turning him into the tackle he's become. …