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'Boys take OT Smith, who says he has Hall of Fame potential

IRVING, Texas -- Tyron Smith already has a claim to fame in Dallas Cowboys lore. He is the first offensive lineman drafted in the first round by Jerry Jones.

Because Smith is only 20, and the Cowboys took him with the ninth overall pick, they are counting on him to grow into something a lot more special.

And get this, Cowboys fans: Smith is, too.

"I think I have the potential to be a Pro Bowler," Smith said, pausing for about two seconds then adding, "and be a Hall of Famer."

Smith's arrival from USC likely means the departure of right tackle Marc Colombo. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound rookie is expected to start on the right side, with Doug Free remaining at left tackle, but the Cowboys think so highly of Smith, there's at least a chance he steps right in as the protector for Tony Romo's blind side.

It's a lot to ask for someone who started only two years in college and won't turn 21 until two weeks before Christmas.

"I'm willing to take the challenge and work hard for it," Smith said.

Dallas offensive line coach Hudson Houck is especially thrilled by the pick. He coached Anthony Munoz at USC and Larry Allen with the Cowboys, and he believes Smith could reach their level. Houck said there was a big gap between Smith -- the first offensive lineman taken in this draft -- and the other blockers on Dallas' draft board.

Houck raved about everything from Smith's height being just right to his long wingspan, from being strong enough to "anchor a bull-rusher" to being quick enough to recover when he gets out of position.

"Those are things you can't teach," Houck said.

Then there's that confidence that was so evident in Smith's conference call with local reporters. Houck said it came shining through during Smith's two-day visit to Dallas during the scouting process.

"Every coach, every other person who talked to him said, 'This guy really seems at ease,'" Houck said.

Speaking from the draft in New York, Smith certainly didn't sound like a wide-eyed kid. (He also clarified that his first name is pronounced TIE-run.)

Although most projections had the Cowboys taking him, he wasn't sweating it out when their allotted 10 minutes were almost over and his phone hadn't rung.

"If they didn't take me, they didn't take me," he said.

Asked if he was a Cowboys fan growing up in Southern California, he said his family rooted for Dallas and for the Rams, but he didn't really have a favorite team.

He said he doesn't feel pressure to live up to being a top-10 pick, or being the rare offensive lineman drafted so high by the Cowboys. He preferred the term "expectations" and constantly talked about working hard to live up to them.

"It's not going to be easy, and everybody knows that," Smith said. "It's about helping the team as much as I can."

Smith weighed 285 pounds last season, far too light by NFL standards. He's worked with a nutritionist to bulk up while staying lean -- he's built sleek, more like an NBA power forward than a Nate Newton-esque lineman -- and has met the challenge of maintaining his new weight.

"It feels healthy," he said. "It feels like natural weight for me."

Dallas hadn't picked an offensive lineman in the first round since 1981, when the Tom Landry/Tex Schramm leadership took Howard Richards at No. 26. He didn't pan out, and neither have most of the linemen Jones' Cowboys have taken in the early rounds in recent years.

They whiffed with a second-round pick on Jacob Rogers, also from USC, and third-rounder Stephen Peterman in 2004, and they got little out of third-round pick James Marten in 2007. Robert Brewster, a third-rounder in 2009, also doesn't look like he's going to pan out.

The best Dallas has done with an offensive lineman in recent years is taking Free in the fourth round in 2007. Once Smith is ready to move to the left side, Free could be moved to the right, which is where he first broke into the starting lineup in 2009 when Colombo was injured.

"We could switch them very easily," Houck said. "We know we have a good left tackle right now. We'll see how that goes."

Now that Dallas has a pair of 20-something players at tackle, it may look to get younger on the interior of the line. But coming off a 6-10 season, the Cowboys have other, bigger concerns.

They have the eighth pick in the second round and the seventh pick in the third round on Friday. On Saturday, Dallas has single picks in the fourth through sixth rounds, then two in the seventh.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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