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SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Tyron Smith hunkered down into his stance at left tackle, the 20-year-old top pick of the Dallas Cowboys making sure he was ready to protect Tony Romo’s blind side.
He wasn’t. DeMarcus Ware blew right by him.
Oh, well. It was only the first day of training camp and Smith’s first practice in what the Cowboys expect will be a long, productive career.
It also was a reminder of why Dallas plans on breaking in the kid slowly, starting him on the right side this season.
Smith found himself on the left side only hours after signing his contract because starter Doug Free can’t re-sign until next week. Thus, the rookie can expect to see plenty of No. 94 over the next few days.
“It’s very challenging, but as it goes along I’m going to start picking it up, and it’s going to start getting easier and easier,” Smith said. “He’s going to make me better.”
Ware sure hopes so.
In the early years of Ware’s career, left tackle Flozell Adams made practices especially tough on him. Adams used every veteran trick he knew to frustrate Ware and force him to learn how to do something about it. Considering Ware led the NFL in sacks two of the last three years, he learned his lessons well. Now he figures it’s his turn to be the teacher.
“I know just a little bit,” Ware said, smiling. “I just try to let that rub off on him. … When you’re out here, you’re always in school. Class is always in session when it’s time to work.”
Smith was the ninth overall pick in the draft. He left Southern Cal after his junior year, having spent the last two years starting on the right side. He said he spent the lockout working on maneuvers from both sides.
Imagine how much rougher things would’ve been if he hadn’t.
As it was, his first day also included a false start that forced him to sit out a play as punishment, and several lectures from line coach Hudson Houck.
Team vice president Stephen Jones was glad simply to have Smith out there.
“There are a lot of expectations for Tyron,” Jones said. “Without having our minicamps and OTAs and things of that nature, we’ve missed a lot with these young guys. They need as much as they can get. It’s good he was able to get out here on Day 1.”
After the four-and-a-half-month lockout that brought the NFL to a halt, camp opened Thursday morning with a blast from an airhorn and players seemingly trying to make up for lost time. Guys moved so quickly during their morning walkthrough that coaches told players to ease up.
“I’m as excited as a guy can be to be playing football again,” said Romo, who missed the final nine games last season with a broken collarbone. “It’s just great to be out here competing.”
Dez Bryant missed the last four games of last season with a broken ankle, so he also was giddy to be back on the field.
Then there was Rob Ryan, the new defensive coordinator. With his long silver hair and prominent belly, he was hard to miss.
Ryan is taking over a unit that last season allowed the most points in franchise history. As if that’s not challenging enough, he doesn’t even have all his main players yet. The Cowboys are expected to sign two new starting safeties and an end.
“We’ve got a great coaching staff, we’ve got smart players, so we’re going to be fine,” Ryan insisted. “We don’t have to make excuses. We’re going to have everything we need to be successful.”
Smith was among six Dallas picks to sign Thursday. Only two are left, second-rounder Bruce Carter and third-round pick DeMarco Murray. Jones said he expects both deals to be done soon, although Carter will be placed on the non-football injury list because of a knee problem from college that he’s still rehabilitating.
Smith and all his fellow rookies certainly stood out on the field: they were the ones in silver-only helmets, forced to earn the blue stars. Garrett is reviving a trick last used by Bill Parcells.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)