FRISCO, Texas -- Defensive end Taco Charlton was blessed to be a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in April. It’s also something of a curse because of who he lines up regularly against in practice.
When Charlton takes first-team snaps, he goes against All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, who might be the best player in the NFL at his position -- and if he isn’t, then he is the second best.
"He's a Pro Bowler for a reason, one of the best left tackles for a reason," Charlton said. "We get after it -- he's making me improve and study my game. I'm watching a lot of tape to see what I can do better, different things to beat him consistently. I'm still a competitive guy, so no matter who I'm losing to, I hate losing, period. Even if I'm losing to him, I'm still not liking it. I take my wins when I can get them. I just keep trying to improve and get better."
When Charlton has those victories, which might be minor or might not result in a play that affects the quarterback, he can take solace in knowing he does not have to face left tackles like Smith on a weekly basis.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been pleased with Charlton’s work but takes caution with everything at this time of year because players are not in pads. Head coach Jason Garrett has seen improvement.
“I think like a lot of young guys, they grow quickly,” Garrett said. “He’s certainly a very good athlete. He’s a smart guy and he’s willing to work. I think when you put them in an environment like this, they get better. He comes to work, I think he recognizes the challenges. He goes against really good offensive linemen day after day. He’s in a really good environment as a defensive lineman with Coach Marinelli and with [assistant coach] Leon Lett. I think he’s grown from that, and also by the examples of the other guys. I think he’s a different player now than he was when we drafted him, and he’s certainly getting better and better every day.”
Lett has been particularly helpful because he had a similar body type to Charlton during his playing days. Lett was 6-foot-6, 290 pounds when he played for the Cowboys, so he had more bulk to his frame than the 6-6, 271-pound Charlton, but they both get it done with long arms more than pure speed. Charlton grew up a Cowboys fan, but Lett's career was a little before his time.
"Big Cat, he's a great player," Charlton said. "My dad actually told me about him because obviously he watched him more than I did when I was a kid. He's a great player, long leverage, kind of like me: big, tall guy. He knows how to use his length, so he can teach me first-hand."
So can Smith.