Tyler Smith’s approach to self-improvement has fortified more than Cowboys’ offensive line
Self Improvement

Tyler Smith’s approach to self-improvement has fortified more than Cowboys’ offensive line

FRISCO — After his first NFL start, Tyler Smith identified a key area of needed improvement.

He wanted to be faster out of his stance at the snap.

That goal became a point of emphasis for the Cowboys’ rookie left tackle, something he discussed with coaches and teammates and stressed in practices after the Sept. 11 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Smith is physical. He is athletic.

Those tools are not accessible if spotting a defender too much time at a play’s start.

“Speed off the ball is going to help tremendously,” Smith said at his locker last week. “Being confident in the cadence, being confident in getting off the ball, confident in where I need to go, that’s all going to help me in getting off the ball faster, which is going to be invaluable at this level, for sure.”

How he responded in Week 2 is what makes his NFL future so promising.

The Cowboys have a strong recent track record for hitting on their first-round draft picks. While 2021 top choice Micah Parsons dominated the Cincinnati Bengals on defense, Smith had the look Sunday of the franchise’s latest success story. His approach toward self-improvement has led to important strides, noticeable even from one week to the next.

Back at his locker Wednesday, Smith was shown a play from Sunday’s 20-17 win.

It came on the opening possession. He was crouched into a two-point stance before a second-and-1 rep. Bengals defensive tackle Zach Carter was aligned over the B gap, which is the space between left guard Matt Farniok and Smith. At the snap, Smith exploded laterally inside, making up the ground deficit between his presnap alignment and Carter’s.

Smith then worked Carter’s inside shoulder and swung around his hips to complete the reach block. Running back Ezekiel Elliott hit the inside crease that Smith helped create for a 7-yard gain.

The drive culminated in a touchdown.

“That’s definitely an example of what I am talking about, for sure,” Smith said. “Just knowing that I’ve got to reach him and cut him off, I know I’ve got to get off the ball faster. That’s something we honed in on in practice. …Getting off the ball, it all starts there. [When] you get off the ball, you take the right step, you gain ground with that first step, and you get to your aiming point, things will go well more often than not.

“You’re just giving yourself the best chance to be successful, which is all we can do. You can’t win every single rep, but you should go into every game with the mind-set that I’m going to focus on my fundamentals, all the technical things I’ve been working on all week.”

No “Mission Accomplished” banner hung Wednesday over Smith’s locker.

He is very much in tune with the elements in his game he can sharpen. A long list exists here, and he is working his way through it, not one by one but simultaneously. Being quicker off the line was just one facet. He said that Monday, at the New York Giants, he hopes to become quicker yet.

For those invested in Smith’s development, the potential is clear.

The Cowboys like what they see.

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was asked about Smith during a Monday news conference. Moore would need to spend a couple of semesters inside the Actor’s Studio to make his face glow like it did and not mean the words that followed.

“I love him,” Moore said, slightly shaking and angling his head with a smile. “I think he’s going to be awesome. Anytime you have a younger guy, there’s going to be moments where you’re going to learn a couple of things on the fly as far as maybe a game gets you or something like that, some sort of protection thing. But he’s been really solid out there. He had a tough matchup in that game [defensive end Trey Hendrickson], and I thought he handled himself really, really well.

“I love his play style, love how he just comes off the ball. If anything, a couple of times where they maybe play with some movement and kind of get him that way, but I’d rather be correcting that than the play style. He’s coming off the ball, and it’s awesome.”

On Aug. 9, when the Cowboys re-signed Brett Maher, the kicker told The Dallas Morning News about how he was a different kicker today compared with 2019 when last with the franchise. He now had a much healthier relationship with imperfections in his game, Maher said.

This allowed him to address any issue more proactively.

“Just being honest with myself,” Maher said. “Technically, mentally, emotionally, being aware of what’s around you. If you’re not aware, then it’s tough to make changes. You’re making more reactions than anything else.”

Maher made that critical adjustment. Not everyone does.

Smith, who turned 21 in April, is already there. He understands improvement is a process, achieved by ax swings at a tree and not the snap of a finger. Reaching his high developmental ceiling will be done incrementally. He has coaches and veteran teammates such as Zack Martin, Jason Peters and Tyron Smith in his corner.

“I hope to improve still,” Smith said. “As much as you want to give yourself a pat on the back, we’ve got a long season ahead of us. There is plenty of room to improve. …This is Year 1. I think about that all the time. It’s just Year 1. There is a lot of ball ahead of me. Every week is a new opportunity to get better.”

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