IRVING, Texas -- I went to Dallas Cowboys practice intending to watch the defense, since I think that's the big story this year. But instead I got caught up watching the first-team offense take on the San Diego Chargers' first-team defense, and paying special attention to the offensive line and rookie right tackle Tyron Smith. Smith was taking on Shaun Phillips or Luis Castillo, depending on the play, and got beaten a few times as you'd expect but showed plenty of good things as well.
When Smith gets his hands on his man, the man is blocked. Smith doesn't lose him. The only issue with Smith right now seems to be footwork. ESPNDallas.com's Bryan Broaddus, the former Cowboys scout who's been studying film of Smith, told me the big thing on which line coach Hudson Houck wants Smith to work is his left foot. Smith had a habit of opening up the foot, pointing the toe toward the interior of the line, which limited his ability to swing out wide enough with his right foot to cut off an edge rusher. So Houck's got Smith's foot pointing straight forward now, which frees him up but still feels uncomfortable to him. You can see it when he goes up against a pass-rusher of the quality of Phillips or Castillo -- sometimes he just doesn't beat his man to the edge.
But Smith is clearly hyper-talented, and as soon as he learns to trust the technique Houck is trying to install, he should be more than capable of starting at right tackle for them this year. Stephen Jones told me they didn't know when they took Smith ninth overall in April whether they'd start him at right tackle or left, even if they re-signed left tackle Doug Free. And talking to people around here, you get the sense that they see him as a potential left tackle in the future. (I actually wonder if that foot-position thing could be cured completely by moving him to the left side, or whether or not he'd just tilt his right foot in instead.)
"He's becoming a real fundamental player," said Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has worked against Smith in practices when the Cowboys' first-team defense got its shot at the first-team offense. "He came in as sort of a raw player with all of that athleticism, and now he's getting his fundamentals down, and that's going to make him dangerous. I'm impressed with how strong and quick he is. Usually, right tackles, they're just big mooses over there. He's just as strong, but a little bit quicker than the normal right tackle."
So, once the footwork issues are cleared up, Smith should be able to use that quickness to overcome whatever weaknesses he still has in his game.