Despite missing their starting left tackle all season, the Cowboys' offensive line has been impressive from one end to the other. So what happens when Tyron Smith returns?
FRISCO, Texas - By almost anyone's estimation, the Cowboys offensive line has under-promised and over-delivered through the first eight games of the season.
With so much uncertainty across the board before the season even began with the exception of All-Pros Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, the offensive line had its fair share of doubters before they ever left for training camp.
Then on the last day of training camp after returning from Oxnard, Calif., Smith went down with a non-contact injury. By the next morning it was said that he would miss the majority of the season with a hamstring injury.
But earlier this week, Cowboy chief operating officer Stephen Jones said on 105.3 "The Fan" that he expected Smith to return to action in about 3-4 weeks, meaning after Thanksgiving is a possibility.
What happens then, especially at left tackle where rookie Tyler Smith has started all season and played well, despite spending most of the offseason at left guard. The question will quickly become how he will fit back in with a unit that has played very well up until this point. But it might be a bit premature to start figuring those things out just yet.
"It's way too early for me…" offensive line coach Joe Philbin said this week. "These are the guys that are available. Then you kind of go from there and simulate it and try to come with a game plan that is going to work for one opponent."
When asked if Tyler Smith was capable of potentially making a switch back to the guard spot when the elder Smith returns, Philbin said it was not something that he had thought about. Though he also did not exactly dismiss it either.
"Obviously it's common knowledge that he was getting a lot of reps at guard in OTAs and in training camp," Philbin said. "We'll see what the future holds. Kind of cross that bridge when we get there."
So, how will the Cowboys eventually work back a potential Hall of Famer in Smith when he is ready to return to a line that has played well together? As Philbin said, they will cross that bridge when they get there.
"Coach [Mike] McCarthy does a great job," He said. "What's going to give the Dallas Cowboys the best chance to win football games?" When that situation arises, [McCarthy] is going to do what's in the best interest of the team. But certainly, Tyron Smith's track record of excellence speaks for itself."
But the reason why Philbin doesn't have a slam-dunk answer is because this offensive line has played well without him.
Not only has Tyler Smith held his own on the left side, but Terence Steele has fortified the right tackle spot, while Tyler Biadasz and Connor McGovern have held down the center and guard positions along with Jason Peters and others.
While it's not exactly the idea that many had before the season began, it has quietly been one of the bright spots for a Cowboys team that has overcome plenty of adversity already.
"You'd love to sit here and say that you're going to have the same five guys starting 17 regular season games and four postseason games," offensive line coach Joe Philbin said. "You look across the league that just doesn't happen very frequently anymore."
In total the group has allowed just 12 sacks to opposing defenses with both Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush taking snaps, with the former of course missing five games with a thumb injury he sustained in the season opener.
Even a step further, the offensive line has helped clear the way for Tony Pollard's big season that included his three touchdown performance against the Bears and Ezekiel Elliott's continued success as a punishing back between the tackles.
For a group that is fairly young outside of Martin, the speed at which they have grown has been something to marvel at. Especially if you get to coach them day in and day out. And with the added veteran presence of Peters to help mentor the young Smith along with Martin overall, it's not hard to see why the unit has collectively come together so well.
"It's a good group," Philbin said. 'We have good leadership. "Zack Martin is not only an outstanding football player, but is a glue in the room and has done a great job with these young guys."
"Jason has been great," Philbin said of Peters' tutelage. "He's made a really positive impact in that area. They [Peters and Smith] sit together in the meeting room… A wealth of information there and can pass along some of those tricks of the trade and does it very willingly."
The Cowboys have made it work without Tyron Smith so far this year. But it will be interesting how it works out when he returns next month.
From the sound of things, it's a nice "problem" to have for Philbin, McCarthy and the coaching staff.