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January 19, 2012

Tyron Smith seems likely to switch sides with Doug Free in 2012

Tyron Smith began his college career as a backup left tackle, but he never started a game there at USC. He instead became one of college football's top tackles while starting two years on the right side. Smith started all 16 games at right tackle for the Cowboys in his rookie season, too, but Dallas used the No. 9 overall pick on Smith with the intention of making him their left tackle.

Jason Garrett acknowledged Thursday that the Cowboys are considering swapping Smith and left tackle Doug Free. The move could happen as soon as the players return for their off-season program.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Garrett said. “That was a possibility when we first drafted Tyron, and one of the many things that was attractive about him was his physical ability to play both right and left tackle in this league.”

Smith made the all-rookie team, and Pro Football Focus rated him the fourth-best tackle in the NFL last season even though he allowed eight sacks and 21 quarterback pressures. New offensive line coach Bill Callahan has liked what he has seen on film of Smith so far.

"He was so athletic, I think he could have played anywhere across the line," Callahan said. "His versatility, no doubt, the ability to go from right to left, I think it’s there. There’s no doubt about that. We saw that in the draft a year ago. It’s just a matter of working all those techniques. I think all the tackles that you coach, the guards, have to be versatile enough to flip sides at some point. So maybe this year’s that point in time."

Free didn't have his best season, and in fact, PFF had Free rated only 51st in the NFL. Free allowed 10 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures, according to the Web site, and he had five false start penalties and five holding penalties.

Free allowed only five sacks and had one hold in 2010, his first full season as a starter. The Cowboys rewarded him with a four-year, $32 million deal, including $17 million guaranteed. But he might have played his best during a seven-game stretch in place of right tackle Marc Colombo in 2009. He allowed only one sack with two holding penalties that season.

“That’s the attractive part of the move,” Garrett said. “Doug is capable of playing both. Tyron is capable of playing both. We’re trying to make the best fit for our football team, and for each of those guys, so they can play at their best.

“If we were to do that, we would try to do that earlier, rather than later, to give them enough opportunity to do it and get better at it.”

-- Charean Williams

Twitter @NFLCharean

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