Gotta love it when the head coach breaks news in his combine news conference. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters on hand in Indianapolis today that the team plans to move Doug Free from left tackle back to right tackle and move Tyron Smith from right tackle to left tackle. This move has been expected, given the brilliant way Smith played as a rookie in 2011 and the fact that Free struggled in his second season on the left side. But Garrett is confirming it, per our man on the scene, Todd Archer:
"The starting point for us next year is Tyron will start at left tackle and Doug will start at right tackle," Garrett said. "The versatility that Tyron had coming out is something we were really attracted to. He was a right tackle in college, as you know, but we felt like he had the physical traits to play left tackle. Same with Doug Free. We felt he could play either side."
When the Cowboys drafted Smith last year, they weren't sure whether they were going to lose Free to free agency, and one of the reasons they liked Smith was that they believed he had the ability to play left tackle if they needed one. Once they signed Free, they decided to leave him where he'd played well in 2010 and break in Smith at the position he'd played in college.
But Smith was the Cowboys' best offensive lineman in 2011, and Free struggled, so the Cowboys have decided to use their best tackle on Tony Romo's blindside, which makes sense. A couple of questions linger, though:
1. Where's Kyle Kosier going? He played left guard next to Free during Free's big year in 2010, then moved over to right guard to play next to Smith and help break in the rookie. Was Free's drop-off in play due in any part to Kosier moving to the other side? Will Kosier move back to the left to play next to Smith and help continue his development, or will he stay on the right to help Free? Kosier's a key figure on the Dallas offensive line, as a player and as a leader, and his status is worth monitoring in light of this move.
2. Is Free a good player who had a down year in 2011, or an average player who had a great year in 2010? The sense I get from talking to people around the league is that it's the former -- that Free still shows the skills to be a top-level tackle but just didn't get the job done this past year. The Cowboys expect him to bounce back, and perhaps a move back to the right side will allow him to do that without undue pressure.
3. Will Smith need time to adjust? He didn't play left tackle in college, and there are differences to which he'll have to become accustomed. Smith is thought of as a great enough athlete to make the adjustment. He may well have been the left tackle at USC had he not been on the same team as Matt Kalil. My guess is he won't skip a beat, and that the Cowboys will benefit from this move. Their bigger line problems are at guard and center.