New locker spotlights Tyron Smith's status

IRVING, Texas -- The location of Tyron Smith's new locker at the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch practice facility says a lot about how the franchise views the 22-year-old left tackle.

Smith moved this week to the locker formerly occupied by defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. It's noteworthy because that stall is one of six that border the exits in the locker room, and coach Jason Garrett has strategically tried to put team leaders in those lockers because they are the highest trafficked areas in the room.

OK, so that didn't work out real well with Ratliff, who now plays for the Chicago Bears after a rather bitter departure from Dallas in October. But the other players in the exit lockers -- Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Doug Free -- set examples that Garrett wants the rest of the Cowboys to follow.

"An NFL locker room is a sacred place, and there are things that are controlled in there," said Witten, who is now Smith's neighbor in the locker room. "Tyron has earned that. That's something that he deserves. If you look around our football team, he's a guy that plays at a high level and expects everyone else to as well. I think that's a good thing to have him there."

Garrett has been effusive in his praise for Smith recently, saying the third-year tackle is performing at a Pro Bowl level. Smith's new real estate in the locker room is evidence that the coaches consider him a leader despite the fact that he's younger than every player on the team with the exception of most rookies.

"Ain't there yet," Smith said. "I'm trying to get there."