Dallas Cowboys linebacker and 2016 second-round draft choice Jaylon Smith lines up in the box during the first quarter of the August 19th preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. For Smith, this is the first football game he’s played in over 19 months.
The ball is snapped and Smith drops back into zone coverage. Colts tight end Jack Doyle crosses the field on a slant and catches a pass from third-string quarterback Phillip Walker. Doyle turns up-field only to be met head-on by Smith and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Smith wrestles him to the ground and immediately stands up and gives the crowd his signature “swipe” celebration. This moment is filled with emotions. What may seem like a measly tackle in an NFL preseason game, meant so much more. It meant that Smith was back.
Jaylon Smith’s Recovery: 596 Days in the Making
A Prospect in the Making
When drafting Jaylon Smith in 2016, the Cowboys knew what they were getting. At the time, it seemed that Smith may have suffered a career-ending injury after tearing multiple ligaments in his knee, including his ACL, and suffering significant nerve damage from the injury as well.
However, the possible upside on a player with Smith’s talent was way too high to pass up. It seemed at the time that Smith would recover from his injuries, but no one knew to what extent or how long it may take. There were significant doubts on whether Smith would return to the dominant player he once was at Notre Dame.
On day two of the 2016 NFL draft, Dallas picked up Smith with the 34th overall pick, which only added to the slew of stars like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott that were chosen in the 2016 draft. Dallas saw him as an investment that could potentially pay off big for their defense in years to come. With lots of speculation on whether Smith could possibly play in the upcoming season, he continued to keep his motto close to him, “Clear eye view.” By this, Smith always keeps “focus, determined beliefs and earned dreams.”
During the season, and while on injured reserve, Smith continued his long recovery process and many photos and videos would surface along the way detailing his progress. Later on in the season, videos were released of Smith running and cutting, and participating in multiple football drills, seeming to work with the same explosiveness that was seen during his senior year at Notre Dame. This gave fans and the Cowboys organization something to be very excited about.
However, any anticipation of a possible return during last season was later ruled out, which disappointed some fans; but when coming back from as gruesome an injury as Smith did, it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have more rest.
Coming into training camp, there was high anticipation not only for Smith, but for the Cowboys as a unit. Both Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, wowed the NFL with record-breaking rookie campaigns and carried the team to a 13-3 regular season record. Now that NFL fans and other teams know what they can do, expectations are high.
Perhaps the only problem that plagued the team last year was their mediocre defense, ranking 26th in passing yards allowed and 22nd in defensive takeaways (ESPN). In 2016, Dallas was in need of some serious pass-rushing presence, and to open this season it’s still a clear need for the team. Thus enters Smith.
Many members of the media feel that fans and the organization are putting tons of pressure on Smith to be great right away and help a team in need of a defensive presence. But the fact of the matter is that he is great and that small tackle against the Colts signified much more than people realize. It signified that Jaylon Smith is back and is looking to make up for the year that he missed in a huge way.