Very few 21-year-olds are entrenched in their chosen career. Even rarer is the 21-year-old who’s already performing at the highest level.
Tyler Smith has been nothing short of awesome in just two games as a starting offensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Against one team who made it to the NFC divisional round last postseason and another who was the AFC’s Super Bowl representative, Smith allowed a total of three pressures and one hurry.
Those are impressive numbers for any lineman. For a rookie who has been of legal drinking age for just five months, they’re phenomenal.
But Smith believes this is just the beginning.
“I think about that all time; it’s just Year One,” he said this week from The Star in Frisco. “There’s a lot of ball ahead of me, and every week is an opportunity to get better.”
Heck, Smith showed enough improvement over his first two pro starts that his head coach noticed.
“Tyler is an alpha personality,” Mike McCarthy said in the days after the team’s 20-17 win over Cincinnati. “He enjoys playing. He definitely improved from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Not just a player who turns it on come gameday, Smith prides himself on preparation through study all the other days of the week.
“Constant improvement is definitely one thing I’m working on,” the first-round draft pick said. “I’ve got all the right guys in my building to help me out with that.”
One of those guys is Jason Peters. The 40-year-old was signed by Dallas in early September to help alleviate the extended loss of perennial All-Pro Tyron Smith. And while he’s been ramping himself up to game readiness, the longtime Eagles left tackle has already been instrumental in helping the young Tulsa product do the job in the meantime.
“Jason has played just about everybody who we’ll ever see in a week,” Smith explained, “so he’s always with me in the film room, telling me what to watch out for.”
On the whole, it definitely seems to be working.
“Anytime you have a younger guy, there’s going to be moments where you’re going to learn a couple of things on the fly as far as just maybe a game gets here or something like that, some sort of protection thing,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore told reporters this week. “He’s been really solid out there. He had a tough matchup in that [Week 2] game. I thought he handled himself really, really well. Love his play style. Love how he just comes off the ball.”
Now with the coaching staff hinting that Peters is close to active duty, there will be a decision to make about Smith. Should he stay at left tackle, the position he was drafted to eventually take over one day down the road? That would leave Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler, on the bench as swing tackle depth. Or do the Cowboys install Peters at tackle and slide Tyler Smith back to left guard, the position he spent training camp learning so that he could play (and keep learning) alongside an all-time great?
The rookie says it doesn’t matter to him and his development.
“I have the same standard for myself at any position on the offensive line,” the Tulsa product shared.
Whichever slot he fills, the 21-year-old knows he has plenty still to learn. And he’s getting a master’s-level crash course everysingle day in practice.
“We practice hard, we practice physical,” according to Smith. “We’ve got one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, hands down, no doubt. That’s helped me in my preparation, having the guys that I do in this building: Micah, Osa, Dorance, D-Law, all those guys. Preparation is huge part in terms of putting yourself ahead of the pace of the game. When you know where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to be doing, the game kind of slows down for you. That’s something that’s helped me out a lot, for sure.”
And if Smith is this dominant while he’s still learning how to play the game at the pro level, it means even bigger things are on the way: not only for Smith in his NFL career, but for the Cowboys in 2022.
“I’m never satisfied,” Smith said. “It’s a long season, we’ve got a lot of weeks ahead of us. We’re in Week 3; there’s a lot of football left to be played. I know there’s a lot I can improve upon. I’m nowhere near where I want to be.”