*(Editor's Note: This is the second of a 12-part series examining and analyzing the main position groups for the Cowboys as they prepare for training camp. Today we continue with the offensive tackles.)
What's the Deal?In just a year's time, the offensive tackle spot has transformed from a question mark to a position of strength. Tyron Smith entered training camp last summer surrounded by questions of whether he'd live up to his lofty draft status. The youngster made perhaps the biggest leap of any player on this roster in 2013, blossoming into one of the best young tackles in the NFL and a Pro Bowler. Across from Smith, Doug Free rebounded from a forgettable 2012 and rediscovered his form as a reliable right-side starter. Behind them, Jermey Parnell and Darrion Weems will get the primary looks, with the Cowboys needing to settle on a primary swing tackle. John Wetzel, Darius Morris and Josh Aladenoye will also have a chance to earn a place – perhaps on the practice squad.
Still Need to Find Out:
It's widely expected that Smith is going to continue to improve on his 2013 form and make another Pro Bowl run. The main concern this season is once again probably Free, who is preparing to enter a contract year. After struggling in 2012, the veteran took a paycut to stay in Dallas, and he delivered with a solid season. He's just 30, so he has at least another contract in him – but will it be with the Cowboys. His play, coupled with the play of Jermey Parnell, could dictate that.
Numbers Game: [embedded_ad]
The likely number of offensive tackles on the active roster is four, but it's possible the Cowboys could carry just three if they need to make room for someone else – say, a linebacker or a wide receiver. Smith and Free are both locks, and the logical assumption is that Parnell and Weems are the favorites to grab the backup spots. If the Cowboys opt to carry just three, they'd need their third tackle to play both sides of the line – which both Parnell and Weems can do. The odds are against the other tackles traveling to camp, barring injury – or perhaps a truly impressive performance.
Ready to Breakout?Weems made the active roster coming out of camp last summer, but he became a near-certainty to be named among the Cowboys' unactives every single week. The Cowboys signed him in December 2012, and they clearly like his potential, as he's managed to hang around the roster without contributing on Sundays. This could be the make-or-break year for the former Oregon starter, as he'll likely battle with Parnell to earn a larger role on the roster.
Battle to Watch:As Doug Free and Jarmey Parnell prepare to go to Oxnard for training camp in 2014, it's Free that has separated himself from Parnell and will be the unquestioned starter on the right side. For Parnell, he's still in a battle, but it's for that spot as the active swing tackle each week with Darrion Weems.
Last Time Out:
For a look back at how each offensive tackle on the current roster performed last season, click here.