Cowboys must rebuild Doug Free

February, 24, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cowboys’ decision to move Tyron Smith to left tackle in 2012 is something that was in the plans when they selected him in the first round last year, but it is not the cure-all for the offensive line.

There is no doubt Doug Free struggled last season. He was not as comfortable as he was for whatever the reason: the lockout forced a short camp, the pressures of a $32 million extension, the loss of technique and the loss of confidence.

But playing right tackle is no easy thing, especially in the NFC East.

Washington can throw Ryan Kerrigan (7.5 sacks in 2011) and Brian Orakpo (nine sacks) at either tackle. Philadelphia can throw Trent Cole (11 sacks) and Jason Babin (18 sacks) at either tackle. The New York Giants can throw Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Justin Tuck (five sacks) or Osi Umenyiora (nine sacks) at either tackle.

Outside the division, the Cowboys have to contend with Pittsburgh’s James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Baltimore moves Terrell Suggs all over the field. Chicago does the same with Julius Peppers.

The adjustment to the right side should not take Free too long. He broke into the lineup there in 2009 after Marc Colombo suffered a broken ankle and showed the Cowboys he can play. The Cowboys felt comfortable enough the next year to let Flozell Adams leave via free agency and slide Free to left tackle. After the lockout ended the Cowboys gave Free the contract.

To me, the switch is more about Smith’s ability than Free’s lack of it but one of the top jobs facing new offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Callahan is rebuilding Free.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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