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Cowboys content with Free at left tackle; rookie Smith to stay on right side

By Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange
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When the Dallas Cowboys nabbed offensive tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth overall choice in this year's draft, there was some thought that the former Southern Cal star would end up on the left side, with Doug Free moving back to the right tackle spot he had played the first three seasons of his career.

But that's not going to happen this year, and maybe not for a few seasons.

For openers, Dallas retained Free, an unrestricted free agent who started all 16 games at left tackle in 2010 after the departure of Flozell Adams, with a four-year, $32 million deal.

Even though the right tackle spot has made big strides financially, that's not the kind of investment that a club typically makes at right tackle.

Second, Free played well in his first season on the left side, despite a slight dropoff toward the end of the season.

And, finally, the Cowboys frankly like what they've seen of Smith so far at right tackle. The first offensive linemen chosen in the opening round by Dallas since tackle Howard Richards in 1981, Smith certainly has the feet and movement skills to play on the left side, but the Dallas coaches feel he's improved his strength and drive-blocking ability.

Dallas runs almost as many plays to the right side as to the left. Plus the staff wants to upgrade the pass protection at right tackle, where the departed Marc Colombo (signed with Miami) surrendered seven sacks and 40-plus "hurries" in 2010.

"Against the 4-3 teams in our division, we're going to have to block (Justin) Tuck (of the Giants) and probably (Jason) Babin (of Philadelphia), two guys who can rush the passer from the strong side," one Dallas coach told The Sports Xchange. "And Washington, even though they are a 3-4 front, will bring some heat off that side, too. We really want to firm up the 'pass pro' on that (right) side, and Smith should allow us to do that. We weren't sure going into last year that Free could hold up on the left side, but he did, and his comfort level has grown there. Maybe long-term Smith is the guy (at left tackle) but not now."

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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