Jaylon Smith’s journey back to the football field is complete.
It culminated Sunday with a start at middle linebacker against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys’ defense forced a three-and-out on the Giants’ first possession. Smith combined on two tackles in his first two series. DeMarcus Lawrence got a sack on third down.
Smith’s return from a severe knee injury sustained in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, his last collegiate football game, has been the biggest feel-good storyline for the Cowboys going into the season opener. Smith used this week to prepare for a real football game for the first time in 19 months, not to reflect on the journey. He missed his entire rookie season last year after the Cowboys used a second-round draft pick on him.
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“Right now it’s all about executing the game plan that we put together and it’s something I’m all in,” Smith said. “The past is a bucket of ashes. For me, those things they’ve occurred, they’ve happened, but it’s about living in the now. It’s Week One. It’s time to prepare.”
Several NFL teams took Smith off of their 2016 draft board entirely, but the Cowboys gambled on him with a second-round pick. He started 39 games for Notre Dame and was considered a top-five draft talent until his injury.
He has coined a phrase for his determined approach to getting back to football: he calls it his “clear-eyed view” of the long road he’s had to walk to get back to football.
Most prognosticators predicted he would get somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 snaps on defense against the Giants as the Cowboys are still somewhat cautious about his comeback.