IRVING, Texas – His position flex has been touted from the beginning, and the Cowboys are certainly putting La'el Collins' versatility to the test early on.
With the first week of Organized Team Activities concluding Thursday, Collins is wrapping up his first week of NFL practices, and all of them have come at the entirely foreign position of right tackle. It's a job the Cowboys are confident the rookie can handle, but there's quite a few differences for Collins – who spent his entire college career on the left side of the line.
"Everything -- I had to switch over from playing left pretty much my whole career to right," he said. "So now I have to switch up my stance and really re-wire my whole mind toward where I want to go when I hear playcalls and things like that."
It's a move of necessity more than anything for the time being. Doug Free is still recovering from offseason surgery, and he likely won't be ready to practice until training camp. In the meantime, the veteran's spot is being shared by Collins and fellow youngster Darrion Weems, with Weems operating as the starter and Collins as his understudy.
That goes against the common logic that Collins might compete for the left guard spot, but Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Collins' spot is far from determined. On the team's OTA roster, the LSU product is listed as an offensive lineman, rather than specifically a guard or tackle.
"We see him as a guy who can maybe do both of those things as he goes," Garrett said. "The big thing for him is to try to get him acclimated as quickly as he can. So right now he's going to play right tackle for us."
Collins had his share of ups and downs on Wednesday, as he showcased the talent that made him a first-round consideration, while also coping with the growing pains of a position switch – not to mention the transition to NFL football.
"It's definitely a new position for me, so it's a new challenge," he said. "I have to go out each and every day and focus on the small things – my technique, my assignments. It's been a great two days."
Regardless of where he lines up, Collins has to feel good about the talent around him. Much has been made about the Pro Bowl talent around him on the line. While he's handling Free's job duties, he's also getting on-field coaching from the injured eight-year veteran.
"He's constantly coaching me up," Collins said of Free. "He's behind me at all times kind of just giving me little things here and there, telling me what I should be thinking, where my eyes should be, where my hands should be – things like that."
Having Collins officially in the fold is bound to bring the speculation with it. Questions abounded on Wednesday about the rookie's comments about Dallas boasting the best line in NFL history. That's been downplayed since Collins' introductory press conference and will surely continue to be.
"I like what Tyron Smith said: 'I want to be known as the hardest-working unit on the team, the hardest-working unit in the NFL,'" Garrett said. "I think that's the culture we try to create here and those are the kind of guys we bring in. And sometimes when you have a signing, there are some statements made that people run with. Our biggest thing is to get back to focusing on today."
Smith said he hasn't done anything to curtail Collins' comments or enthusiasm as he's settled into the offseason program. But just from watching the veteran's demeanor, the message seems pretty clear.
"That's his own opinion. But for us as a group we know that we just need to work," Smith said.
It's a simple message, and Collins has taken it to heart – regardless of where the Cowboys are asking him to play.
"You just see a lot of hard work. There's nothing that needs to be said," he said. "Each and every day, you come out, you work hard, you get better and everything takes care of itself."