The 2021 season was a mix of business as usual and transitional affairs for the outside portions of the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line.
On the left side, Tyron Smith earned yet another Pro Bowl invite while Terence Steele performed well enough to let the tenured La'el Collins walk to Cincinnati. Each is expected to reprise his role at the top of the Dallas depth chart this season.
But the Cowboys' work on the line is far from complete: Dallas would be foolish to let depth suffer, especially with Smith's injury problems, his blocking brilliance interrupted only by various ailments that have prevented him from a full season in each of the past six years.
Dallas used its first selection of NFL Draft weekend to partly address their tackle concerns with Tyler Smith (no relation to Tyron) arriving in the 24th overall slot. Plans for Tyler Smith currently pencil him in the Cowboys' top left guard role but both head coach Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore stressed that it was merely a starting point during rookie minicamp activities.
"I wouldn’t get too caught up on exactly where Tyler is playing, because we’re trying to have as constructive a practice environment as we can as far as how many linemen we’re dealing with," McCarthy said. "I feel like I stated when he was drafted he will work left guard and left tackle, but you can see the twitch is something that jumps out at you."
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To that end, Dallas' swing tackle battle could boil down to a hodgepodge of potential that's not blessed with NFL experience. Of those assembled on the outside, youngsters Josh Ball and Matt Waletzko lead the way.
Josh Ball (79)
Matt Waletzko (76)
The Cowboys have hope for Ball, a 2021 fourth-round selection whose rookie campaign was wiped out by an ankle injury. Character issues have been the biggest concern for the Marshall alum, whose power and length have been lauded on the field. Ball has reportedly made progress in workouts this offseason and his year learning the Dallas offense could come up big if he's faced with a training camp competition.
Dallas would later spend another late spring Saturday addressing the swing issue, taking FCS stud Waletzko in the most recent fifth round. Waletzko already holds a bit of a place in Cowboys history, as the pick used to bring him aboard was obtained from Cleveland for Amari Cooper. Standing at 6-7, the North Dakota alum drew concerns because of a relatively scrawny weight of 312, but he impressed with his athleticism and on-field smarts. Waletzko, who was responsible for only three sacks in his collegiate career, took most of the left tackle reps at rookie minicamp in Frisco.
The swing tackle battle will be one of the more intriguing showdowns over the rest of the Cowboys' 2022 preparation. This issue could be one that not only partly defines Dallas' offensive fortunes in the coming season, but beyond 2022 as well: perhaps no one wants to admit it, but the team could subtly be looking for a successor to Tyron Smith, who turns 32 in December and can hit free agency in 2024.
It's fair to give Ball the advantage for the time being, as his bulkier frame and knowledge of the McCarthy offense push him forward. But only time on an NFL field, a somewhat troubling deficiency in the offensive line room, will be able to determine the path forward.