McCarthy: Tyler Smith’s ‘alpha personality’ helping him learn two OL spots at once for Cowboys

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Starting work for a new company is always challenging. Especially when you’re doing two jobs.

Rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith was drafted 24th overall by the Cowboys as a high-potential left tackle out of Tulsa. But seeing as how Dallas already has a left tackle in eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith, the younger Smith was projected from the very beginning to learn a new trade, at least to start.

In the team’s second set of OTAs, he was already seeing snaps at both left tackle and left guard. But the double learning curve doesn’t seem to be posing any problems, according to his head coach.

“He’s doing very well,” Mike McCarthy said in a Thursday press conference.

“It’s tough,” he added in regard to the 21-year-old learning the playbook two different ways. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s tough. We’re just trying to be smart, how we do it. We don’t want hold up progress just based off of two positions. I think he’s done a nice job so far.”

But the coach admitted that things are going to get even tougher for the players- especially the rookies- starting with the next set of voluntary sessions, which kick off Monday at The Star in Frisco.

“You’re going to start seeing these guys hit the wall a little bit,” McCarthy explained. “We had two weeks to work on Installs One and Two. This week, we did Three and Four. Coming off this break’s always a challenge: fatigue, injuries, and things like that. Next week’s going to be a grinder, because we’ll do four installs over the course of next week.”

But so far, the Fort Worth native who got the call to come back to play for his hometown Cowboys has been all that was hoped when the team used its first-round pick on him.

“Love the way he’s wired,” McCarthy went on. “He’s very aggressive. Has an alpha personality, even as a young man. He’ll continue to grow. I think he’s impressed the veteran players so far.”

It seems he left an impression on the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year in particular. On one play, filling in for Tyron Smith at tackle, he “blocked Micah Parsons off the edge with no trouble at all.”

The linebacker took it in stride, recognizing what the rookie’s immediate contributions will mean for the team as a whole.

“I think Tyler’s going to be a really good player,” Parsons said, per team staff writer David Helman. “We’re all really excited about him. He’s a strong kid. He gets his hands on you, I don’t see too many people getting away. He’s got the best of a lot of guys here in practice.”

Playing two positions- and doing both early on- only gives him more chances against more guys… even if he ends up staying in one spot once the opponents are wearing different colors.

“I think anytime you bring in new players to your organization, you really want to create opportunities for them to be successful,” McCarthy said, “and that’s really what this is about. So I think he seems a little bit more natural at guard right now. I know he’s played tackle in college. His aggressive nature bodes well for him in there. I think it’s a real credit to him because of his physical gifts. When young players hit a crutch point, how they react. His reaction is, maybe, jump-set a guy, be aggressive. Obviously, that’s a little bit more of a challenge out there on the edge with the type of players you’re going against, particularly the pass rushers, too. But, hey, we haven’t put the pads on yet. I never get really excited this time of year.”

That hasn’t stopped fans from getting excited, though, at the thought of the powerful rookie perhaps being the missing ingredient that allows the 2022 offensive line to regain some of its former glory as the best in football.

Because even though the names and the faces are new, the fundamentals of O-line play are still largely what they’ve always been.

“Length and athletic ability,” McCarthy specified. “I go back to the interview process with [Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones and just talking about the profiles and what you look for in offensive and defensive linemen. I just pointed to the pictures on the wall from the ’90s. I mean, you look at the length of that offensive and defensive line during the heyday here, and it was something I was always impressed with on the opposite sideline, particularly their offensive line.”

It’s no accident that Tyler Smith was issued the same jersey number as 11-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer Larry Allen.

Today’s fans wouldn’t mind even a fraction of that heyday. While quarterback Dak Prescott has proven himself one of the best in the game at spreading the ball around to an arsenal of receiving weapons, the Cowboys running attack has downshifted into a very pedestrian gear in recent seasons.

However you choose to divvy the touches, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard still represent, by all accounts, one of the NFL’s more potent backfield tandems. But not if they don’t have room to run behind the offensive line.

And drafting a physical Day One starter at left guard who’ll already be an experienced and battle-tested veteran by the time the Cowboys ask him to replace Tyron Smith at left tackle is a major step in rebuilding that Great Wall of Dallas.

That’s a tall order for anyone, especially a 21-year-old rookie.

But it all starts one day, one practice, one rep at a time. Even if it is at two different jobs.

“He was selected in the first round for a reason,” McCarthy said of Tyler. “I’m thinking about the 53. I’m thinking about game day… Because anybody that can play two positions, that’s something that we talk about a ton. Will [McClay] and I have this conversation daily, where we’re looking at players… ‘Does he do two things?’ I think it’s important for players- unless they’re a quarterback or a kicker or a specialty position- that they have to bring two things to the table. Because if they don’t, their ability to be up on game day is obviously limited.”

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