'Back home' at left tackle, Cowboys need Tyron Smith to stay healthy

Stephen A. refuses to include Cowboys players on his latest A-list (1:41)

Stephen A. Smith refuses to put include Micah Parsons or any other Dallas Cowboy on his A-list of top 5 NFL players. (1:41)

FRISCO, Texas -- Through it all, Tyron Smith does not believe he is jinxed

The Dallas Cowboys’ eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle has missed 33 games in the past three seasons. A neck injury in 2020 limited him to two games. A high ankle sprain in 2021 and bout with COVID-19 cost him six games. Then there was last year, when he tore his left hamstring off the bone during training camp; that required surgery and forced him to miss 13 games.

“I don’t even think that way,” Smith said. “Waste of energy.”

The Cowboys are 11 days away from opening the season against the New York Giants, and the best news for coach Mike McCarthy, quarterback Dak Prescott and everybody associated with the Cowboys is that Smith is healthy.

If Smith has expressed any frustration about the spate of injuries, he has kept it to himself.

“Tyron hasn’t changed from the moment I’ve gotten here,” said All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, Smith’s teammate since 2014. “He’s all business all the time, come into work every day, and that hasn’t changed.”

A key to the Cowboys’ success this season will be the health of their offensive line, considering the lack of experience with their backups, so Smith’s health is paramount. He has not played a full season since 2015, but instead of missing three games a season -- which happened from 2016 to 2019 because of back, knee and neck injuries -- he has missed substantial time the past three seasons.

As a result, he accepted a pay cut this season. The Cowboys guaranteed him $6 million through salary and a bonus, compared to the $13.6 million he was set to make, while giving him a chance to make up to $17 million in play-time bonuses and incentives.

“My guys here on the team are family,” Smith said. “I want to do whatever it takes to stay here, and I know we can run it all the way here.”

Upon the Cowboys’ return to Frisco last week for training camp, a milestone was marked when he made it through the two padded practices without incident. Last August at Ford Center, Smith suffered his major hamstring injury as he was looking to make a downfield block on Leighton Vander Esch.

Smith called it a “freak accident.”

“You can’t think too much about that,” Smith said. “Just continue moving forward and do the right thing moving forward.”

Smith is the longest-tenured Cowboy, entering his 13th season. He turns 33 in December. When teams envision a left tackle, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Smith still looks the part. The Cowboys altered his practice schedule in the summer, giving him some days off, but he has not missed a day to nurse any kind of injury.

“He's healthy. He's had a great offseason,” McCarthy said. “He puts a tremendous amount of extra time into it. His work ethic is top notch. I think the reality of how long he's played is why we are being smart with him.”

Smith spent this summer readjusting to left tackle. When he returned last season, he played right tackle for the first time since 2011, his rookie season, because Tyler Smith had settled in at left tackle in his absence. When the Cowboys drafted Tyler Smith it was with the idea that he would be the left tackle of the future, but Tyron Smith’s injury changed that trajectory. This summer, Tyler Smith has taken every rep at left guard.

When Terence Steele was lost for the season with torn knee ligaments, Tyron Smith volunteered to play right tackle. While his pass block win rate at right tackle (89.1) was better than it had been at left tackle from 2017 to 2021, his run block win rate (76.3) was lower than it had been at left tackle.

“He’s back home where he’s used to,” Martin said, “and he looks good.”

When Smith came to the Cowboys, he had to block Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware. Now he works against Micah Parsons, who has tested Smith in practice, but Parsons would test any tackle.

“I just want people to know Tyron is really, still great,” Parsons said. “There comes a time in your career -- not Tyron, this is me, my career -- where I feel like Tyron is intimating, bro. So when I was going against Tyron my rookie year, that was one of the first left tackles that I went up against. I was like, ‘Man, this guy is hard to beat.' I didn't understand what I was doing, how I wanted to set him up, and I learned from him.”

Now Smith is learning from Parsons.

“Micah has the full package,” Smith said. “As far as keeping up with him, you can prove you can play against anybody in the league in playing against him.”

Prescott is happy that the veteran has his blindside protected.

“That’s a guy from the time that I’ve come in, when he’s been healthy, that’s a side you don’t have to worry about,” Prescott said. “Thankful that he’s feeling well and he’s going to continue.”