In 2011, Tyron Smith started all 16 games for the Dallas Cowboys at the RT position, which he played at USC. The fact that he played RT in college was seen as a source of concern to some. Others pointed to the fact that he was reportedly only 280 pounds during his time at USC. Due to this, people questioned his run blocking ability, his strength, and his ability to add weight to his frame. He was also just 20, and despite starting for 2 years, he was looked at as raw.
Tyron Smith appeared destined to be a Late 1st, or Early 2nd round pick, mainly based on his tremendous upside. However, his post season weigh in of 307 pounds, combined with his monster Pro Day vaulted him into top 15 talks. While watching him as a college player, you could tell that he was more than just a work out warrior. The things that always stood out to me in his play were the fact that he had a tremendously quick kick slide, and the fact that he showcased natural flexibility in the hips. This allowed him to absorb contact better than you’d expect for someone his size, especially considering he always didn’t get optimal usage out of his long arms. As expected, he also moved extremely well in space.
It’s fair to say that Smith’s play for the Cowboys in 2011 exceeded anyone’s expectations. Not only did he do a terrific job as a pass blocker, but he was also a much better run blocker than most expected him to be. For the 2012 season, Tyron Smith is going to make the move from RT to LT. Early reports out of camp from HC Jason Garrett are that he’s handling the move very well. DeMarcus Ware shares similar sentiments.
In watching a lot of Smith’s 2011 tape, there’s a lot to like. He displayed all of his positive traits from college, along with a stronger punch, and improved consistency with his hand placement (although he’s still far from + in this area) in my mind. The Cowboys used his quickness and athletic talents in the run game, while not asking him to do a lot of “1 on 1 drive blocking” that many analysts thought he would struggle with. On a solid chunk of the run calls, Smith was tasked with doubling down with the RG, and potentially flying to the second level. In addition to this, a favorite tactic for the Cowboys was having Smith pull in space, and it’s tough to blame them for this infatuation, as he looked superb in this role.
Sometimes one on one run blocking situations are inevitable, and Smith handled it better than I thought he would. While he never really created a lot of “drive” on his man, he did a good job of being sticky, and not letting his man disrupt the play.
As a pass protector, Smith was quick and athletic enough to respond to inside rushes and redirect moves (although he did get beat here a few times when he overextended on his kick slide), and attempting to run the arc on him was often a futile attempt.
There is one thing in particular that gives me concern about this upcoming season however, and it has very little to do with his move to LT and how he’ll have to adjust his foot work. My concern has to do with how he’ll handle the bull rush, which I expect him to see much more frequently this upcoming season.
If you didn’t read the article with DeMarcus Ware’s comments on Smith, here are a few quotes of Ware’s I pulled out:
“The crazy thing about Tyron is he’s the first guy that when you lock up with him, you can’t get off of him…”
“He’s the first guy to ever do that to me. That shows the strength he has and how quick he is on the inside. When you try to beat him inside, you can’t. He’s just that athletic.”
“When you think about a tackle that’s coming from the right side to the left side, it’s a different speed change, but the athleticism of Tyron and how he can latch on to you if you try to overpower him or when you go around the corner, he uses his hands really well…”
I don’t think that’s just the typical training camp hype machine, because I saw all of it in Smith’s 2011 games. Although I wouldn’t say he can’t be beat inside, Smith does possess the ability to adjust to it, and hopefully he improved even more. The one thing from above that I didn’t see Smith do consistently was “latch on when you tried to overpower him”. While he was able to do this on occasion, and wasn’t completely overwhelmed with the bull rush, it looked to me as if this was by far the best way to go after him. This YouTube video shows one example:
Here are a few other screen shot examples:
Now, this didn’t become a debilitating issue for Smith, because as I mentioned earlier, he seemed to improve upon not only his functional strength, but his hand placement. I don’t disagree with Ware, if Smith is able to beat the DE in the hands battle, he has enough anchor strength that the pass rusher probably won’t win by attempting to overpower Smith. He’s not always going to win that battle though, and this is a potential issue. In my opinion, one reason that Smith can beat with the bull rush and counter moves off the bull rush is due to his stance:
To me, it seems as if Tyron Smith is leaning way too forward in his stance. I’m not certain that this is the one thing that can be pointed to the cause of Smith popping upright, but I’m sure it doesn’t help. Basically, too frequently, as soon as he comes off the ball out of the 2 point stance, he is popping up straight up. This became a bit too much of a reoccurring theme for my tastes as I watched him.
Fortunately for Smith, he has that natural flexibility, so he’s not playing stiff, but it’s still something pass rushers will look to exploit more frequently this season (I was surprised at how many guys tried to beat him with speed). It’s not a shock to me that a pass rusher like Jason Babin probably gave Tyron Smith his biggest issues last year. On a few separate occasions, Babin was able to win the leverage battle and get under Smith with the bull rush, and then he worked a spin move to get back inside and after the QB.
This forced the Cowboys to give Smith additional help pretty frequently against the Eagles. Even if this issue isn’t corrected next year, I fully expect Smith to remain an upper echelon OT due to his natural talent and other improvements he’s made since his USC days, but I would be awfully surprised if teams didn’t test him more this year. If Smith can make this adjustment however, he can truly become something special.