When speaking about the work Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith has done in a return from a devastating knee injury suffered during his senior season at Notre Dame, Dallas coaches have not hesitated to offer high amounts of praise.
“His optimism, his outlook in life, it is just rare,” said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. “I really do believe that’s helped him get better and better.”
“He’s ahead of the game,” said Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus. “He was able to learn the system and schematically what to do (during last season). Now he needs to learn on the field how to do it.”
For Smith, year two of Cowboys OTAs is more like his first time. And the difference between watching practices and actually facing NFL-caliber players has been eye-opening at times.
“The speed of the game is a little bit faster, and at the next level everyone’s good,” Smith said. “That’s the biggest difference. There’s no drop off. That’s what I’m getting adjusted to.
And while the message has consistently been that the linebacker is fully able to do whatever is asked of him physically, the Cowboys are still being cautious. Smith won’t practice back-to-back days in OTAs, minicamp or training camp, according to Garrett, as he continues to make way back from what was a career-threatening injury.
“He just needs to continue to progress, continue to work his rehab and get himself in situations on the field where he can grow,” said Garrett. “We’ve had no obstacles to this point. He’s done a really nice job working to get back.”
“For me, it’s full confidence,” said Smith. “I just have to keep improving.”