OXNARD, Calif. - There were points during the last couple of seasons for the Dallas Cowboys when the line in front of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott was offensive, as opposed to being a true offensive line. This was due in large part to injuries at key positions - e.g., Tyron Smith - and a suspension to offensive tackle La'el Collins (2021) that sent shockwaves across the front, but there was also an unhealthy mix of struggle(s) from players not named Zack Martin who were essentially being asked to become instantly dominant on the fly.
Enter Tyler Smith, the first offensive lineman to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Cowboys since (coincidentally enough) Martin was in 2014. The pressure is immediately on Smith to quickly become an impact player - read: starter - at left guard, but he is currently battling with Connor McGovern for the right to claim that throne at the start of the 2022 season.
Having already made some eye-popping blocks in training camp, however, Smith is off to a hot start.
"It's really starting to come together for him," said Ezekiel Elliott of Smith's progress as padded practices get underway. "You can tell the game is slowing down. You can tell he's starting to [figure it out]."
Even more telling of Smith's potential, though, is in how Elliott lit up like a torch when identifying one of the rookie's biggest ... strengths.
"Dude is strong," said a smiling Elliott. "If you just watch some of the plays and when he just punches a guy -- he's lifted a couple of guys off of their feet just by punching. When he gets his hands on guys, they're not getting away from him. You can definitely tell he's a skilled cat, and he's gonna be good for us."
At one point in padded practice, to Elliott's point, Smith literally lifted former second-round pick Trysten Hill off of the ground and then pancaking him back to the earth below. So while the former Tulsa standout and First-Team all-conference lineman has history playing at both tackle and guard at any given time, it's the aforementioned power that will serve him well as the Cowboys look to lock him into the latter role, as head coach Mike McCarthy alluded to on Monday.
"We really had that talk after the spring," McCarthy said ahead of the team's first practice in pads. "We probably played him too much at tackle than guard [in minicamp]."
That said, and despite the loss of rookie fifth-round pick Matt Waletzko in the ongoing battle at swing tackle, look for Smith to stay planted at left guard for the foreseeable future, where he's already begun planting defensive linemen in training camp.