Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith might not be at the top of the Pro Bowl ballot, but coach Jason Garrett has no doubt that Smith is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
“There’s no question in my mind. He’s a fantastic player,” Garrett said.
Smith has been dominant this year as a run and pass blocker. He has allowed one sack in 12 starts and he has only been penalized four times.
Last season, he had 11 penalties (including seven false starts, two holdings) and allowed three sacks.
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As a rookie at right tackle, he had seven penalties (four false starts, three holding) and allowed nine sacks.
Smith’s value is not just in his play but his attitude, work ethic and hustle. He proved that again last week, not only as their left tackle but in recovering a fumble in the second quarter that let the Cowboys keep a touchdown drive alive.
“Tyron’s a very good athlete, so he can run. He can get to some of those balls,” Garrett said. “There’s no question he’s aware. I think the biggest thing you ask your linemen to do is finish the down. Often times those guys are blocking their guy, whether it’s a run or a pass, and they’re kind of stuck on their assignment. But the play continues. I think it’s hard to ask an offensive lineman to run 60 yards down the field play after play after play at their size. But you want them moving toward the ball, and when you have a lot of people moving toward the ball, whether it’s on offense or defense, usually good things happen.
“On that fumble recovery the other day, he just was aware. He made a heck of a play, a very athletic play, to recover that ball.”
Smith said: “It’s our mentality. Run down the field after the play is over with. That’s all it is. Just being aware that anything can happen.”
Garrett said the 23-year-old is influencing the other players on the line, such as guard Ron Leary.
“Tyron plays well technically,” Garrett said. “Some of the things that separate him are the ability to just play with the physical nature, both as a pass protector and as a run blocker. That has a positive impact on Ron and the other guys.”
Linebacker Justin Durant should be available against the Bears after missing the past two games because of a hamstring injury. But look for Kyle Wilber to remain the starter at strongside linebacker, owner Jerry Jones said.
Though a final decision hasn’t been made, Wilber has played well in Durant’s place the past couple weeks.
Wilber had 13 tackles, two quarterback pressures and a tackle for loss in the past two games against the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. Durant has been solid, though not spectacular, with 28 tackles in nine games this season.
“If you lose it and you’re the starter, then you’re supposed to be the starter when you get back. So much for that,” Jones said. “I’m excited about Wilber as a player and asset for the Dallas Cowboys.
“Over these next few ballgames, against Chicago for starters, he’s going to be a big factor for us on defense. But I wouldn’t want to say who’s actually the starter.”
Garrett is happy he has options.
“We’ll figure out the best guys,” Garrett said. “It was just nice to see Kyle Wilber step in there and be a contributor. “
Pro Bowl watch
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, inside linebacker Sean Lee and free safety Barry Church rank second in Pro Bowl voting at their positions.
Hatcher, with 224,873 votes, trails Kansas City’s Dontari Poe (233,212). Lee, with 193,027 votes, trails Buffalo’s Kiko Alonso (265,232). Church, with 87,634 votes, trails Seattle’s Earl Thomas (277,482).
For the first time, the Pro Bowl will not be picked by conference. Players will be selected in voting by fans, coaches and players, with, for instance, the top six quarterback vote-getters designated All-Stars instead of three from the NFC and three from the AFC.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning leads overall fan voting with 926,432 votes.
Voting continues online until Dec. 26.