HONOLULU - Dallas Cowboys standout Tyron Smith is in the conversation as one of the NFL's best left tackles -- and maybe in the conversation as one of its best players. He's so consistently good that his rare mistakes stand out, and he's so consistently present that his rare injury absences stand out, too.
So when Tyron Smith, eight years into his brilliant career, opened up Cowboys OTAs in May inside The Star in Frisco by quietly stating, "I’m coming back faster and stronger,'' you lean in and listen.
And when he's scratched for Saturday's preseason game against the Rams here in Hawaii? Yes, you lean in and listen to that, too.
The Cowboys will be without two starting offensive lineman this weekend as Smith didn't make the trip to Hawaii due to a back issue. ... so along with Zack Martin (disk irritation), he headed back to DFW when training camp in Oxnard closed on Thursday.
How severe is Tyron's problem? How legit is his "faster and stronger'' claim?
First, you listen to all of it because like most everything that comes out of the six-time Pro Bowler's mouth, it's stated quietly. ... so you have to lean in to even here the words. And second, you do so because Tyron isn't given to swaggering braggadocio. Meaning, this is a rather bold statement.
Meaning, it's meaningful.
But so is the back issue that has flared up for him from time to time.
First things first: "Coming back'' faster and stronger? I mean, "coming back'' from where? In 2018, he allowed zero sacks in 15 total games – 13 regular-season appearances and two playoff games. In that first playoff game, a win over the Seahawks, he helped stifle Seattle's pressuring defense as the Cowboys surrendered just one sack and rushed for 164 yards in the 24-22 win. It's true that Tyron battled referees in 2018 -- I honestly think that's a fair way to say it -- as in those 13 regular-season games, Smith totaled 10 penalties, seven of which were for holding.
Did he suddenly forget how to block without holding? Or did injuries slow him down just enough to cause more clutching and grabbing?
That latter theory is increasingly attached to Smith -- that is, the idea that he's oft-injured. Where does this come from? Mostly "The Chaz Green Experience,'' I believe. In 2017, Green started at left tackle in place of Tyron and was an all-time disaster. That game is cemented in some Cowboys Nation minds as a "Tyron failure'' because he didn't play. ... and in those minds, it's been expanded into a problem that doesn't really exist.
Smith, 28, was drafted No. 9 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Since that time, he's played about 90 percent of every snap taken - and in 2018, he missed fewer snaps than any tackle in the NFL.
If this is "decline,'' most any NFL offensive lineman would gladly take it.
Smith missed just two games in 2018 due to a stinger ... and as expected, he played valiantly when returning from it, even though I promise you it wasn't quite right. his back may not be quite what it was, either, though again, he understands that injuries, and maintenance, are part of the sport. In Smith's first five NFL seasons, he missed but one NFL game. Last year, to stem the oncoming tide of age, he spend his offseason undergoing yoga-style stretching work.
Immediately, Dallas will want to find some solutions for a 2018 bugaboo, the 56 sacks of QB Dak Prescott. The Cowboys will work on chemistry with the maturing Connor Williams at guard next to Tyron and the returning Travis Frederick at center.
And eventually? The organization will have an eye on the future, with second-year man Williams and two rookies, Connor McGovern and Mitch Hyatt around for when it's time to turn the page on this O-line.
But consider this a warning from Tyron Smith to those who would someday try to take his job, as well as those who will face him across the line of scrimmage this year.
“Every year you always have little nicks here and there,'' Tyron said during OTAs. But it feels good coming into this year with no injuries. I’m coming back faster and stronger.”
Cowboys Nation hopes that's still true.