As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. We've wrapped up the AFC and will now head to the NFC. First up, the Dallas Cowboys.
Tyron Smith could be the NFL's next elite left tackle
The Dallas Cowboys went to great lengths to shore up their offensive line in 2011. They used a top-10 pick on USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith (No. 9 overall) and signed Doug Free to a four-year, $32 million contract after the lockout.
With the lockout expediting the learning process for Smith, who was the youngest player in the NFL last season, the Cowboys opened up the season with Free back at left tackle and Smith manning the same right tackle spot he played for the Trojans. Free missed just two snaps on the season, while Smith missed eight, a good sign that the Cowboys have talented and durable tackles under contract for the foreseeable future.
The tackles will, however, be switching sides.
Though he primarily played right tackle in his two years as a starter at USC, and has never started a game on the left side, the Cowboys moved Smith to left tackle this offseason. Their reasons are obvious. At 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds, with 36 3/8-inch arms, an 84 5/8-inch wingspan, impressive strength (31 reps on the bench press at his pro day) and quick feet, Smith has all the physical tools to become a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle and has the added benefit of facing DeMarcus Ware, one the league's elite pass-rushers, every day in practice.
Given the state of the tackle position in the NFC -- Jason Peters, a starter in last year's Pro Bowl, has torn his Achilles tendon twice this offseason-- and the ballot-stuffing potential of Cowboys fans, the Pro Bowl is a personal achievement that could come sooner rather than later for Smith.