One of the Cowboys’ biggest mysteries entering training camp is how their offensive line falls into place. Aside from Zack Martin (who’s not expected to miss games) at RG and Tyler Biadasz at C, things are unsettled across the Dallas offensive line.
On paper, the solution is quite obvious: Tyron Smith plays LT, Tyler Smith plays LG, Biadasz at C, Martin at RG, and Terence Steele claims RT. It’s a way to get, what is perceived as, the best-five players on the field.
If the solution is so obvious, why then is their such mystery enveloping the Cowboys offensive line this summer?
The answer (and question) is Terence Steele.
If Terence Steele can return to pre-injury form, other dominos across the Cowboys OL will fall into place.
Over the past three years, Steele has developed himself into a good right tackle. The former undrafted free agent started his career on rocky road. Thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie, Steele looked like one of the worst tackles in the NFL (PFF graded him 76 out of 79 OTs).
But Steele put in the work and turned himself into, not only a viable NFL player, but a downright dominant run-blocker. In 2022 he was playing at peak levels. Together with Martin, the two Cowboys linemen were arguably the most effective run-blocking duos in the NFL.
Sadly, in Week 14 Steele’s standout season came to an abrupt ending when he fell to a torn ACL against the Texans. The late-season knee injury now threatens to delay his 2023 campaign and leaves the Cowboys line in a state of unknown. If Steele is not his previously dominant self, there could be a trickle-down effect throughout the line.
Early in the offseason, Jerry Jones spoke of his desire to play Tyler Smith at LT and Tyron Smith at RT. Soon after, other Cowboys brass chipped in on the subject, mentioning “the best-five” and keeping options open at guard as well as both tackle spots.
If Steele is unable go full-speed at RT this summer, it temporarily simplifies things (not necessarily in a good way) for the Cowboys. Jerry Jones’ (panned) plan for Tyler Smith to play LT and Tyron Smith to play RT likely goes into effect, leaving the main competition to play out at LG.
The dominoes start to fall when, and if, Steele proves he’s returned to form.
Few will argue Steele played better than Tyron Smith at RT last season. Playing on the right side for the first time in 12 seasons, Smith struggled. For as pedestrian as Steele has been in pass-protection, the Cowboys felt his absence in the running game. If both Steele and Smith look like their 2022 selves, Steele will likely get the nod at RT.
Steele’s presence back at RT may push Tyron Smith to LT or could push the future Hall-of-Famer to a reserve role. The Cowboys want to get their best-five on the field together but what if Tyron Smith is no longer the man he used to be? He wasn’t late last season. The dominos could fall a couple different ways.
If Chuma Odoga (a free agent addition Cowboys brass keeps mentioning), Matt Waletzko, Josh Ball, etc… impress in the competition for LG, they may be the final piece in the top-five, making Tyron Smith the swing tackle. Keeping in mind, the Cowboys have also made known their desire to play Tyler Smith at LT because they still view him as the Cowboys’ next great LT.
Then again, maybe 2022 was just a blip on the radar for Tyron Smith and his declining play was a byproduct of rushing back from injury to a position he was unfamiliar with.
The point is, the dominos can’t really start falling until Steele is back in the lineup and playing like his previous self. Otherwise, the Cowboys are just plugging holes.
Everything should fall into place once the Steele domino falls. If he can’t come back and play at a level Dallas is accustomed to, things will need to be reorganized and potential outcomes start to multiply. But if Steele can win the RT spot early, the dominos will fall into place. It's all about Steele.