Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith optimistic, excited and ready to play

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Get ready for some football with our video graphic of the Dallas Cowboys' upcoming preseason and regular season games

There is no diminishing linebacker Jaylon Smith’s optimism and enthusiasm.

Not after what he has gone through and endured over the last year.

Not after missing all of his rookie season with tragic knee injury suffered in his final college game at Notre Dame.

There were those who thought he would never play again.

The Cowboys always believed in him, which is why they picked him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft while knowing he would have to sit out his first year.

And Smith always believed himself. He never wavered in his belief that he would indeed play again and at the same level if not better than before.

So despite being limited in practice as the Cowboys open training camp, there is no diminishing his excitement and enthusiasm about being able to play and practice for the first time in more than a year.

“It feels great,” Smith said Monday. “Last year I was kind of a spectator just in the beginning stages of rehab. Now I’m in the mix and playing football.

“The plan is to work hard and every day. It varies as far as the scheduling. I’m just doing everything that they allow me to do.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones compared the anticipation of finally being able to watch Smith practice to that of watching a No. 1 draft pick for the first time.

While Jones is hoping for the best, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn’t know what to expect.

“No, other than I know he’s a very talented and terrific college football player,” Marinelli said. “I know his talent level, his character and how much he works at it. The next step is to start to get in Wednesday. He’s never been in an NFL practice. This will be his first chance. I just take everything day by day, see how he does progress and give him a little bit more each day, and just coach him, coach him.”

The Cowboys have a plan and will remain deliberate, practicing him every other day.

But the good news is that there is reason for hope and optimism because his latest EMG test, taken right before camp, showed improvement in the nerve regeneration. There is hope that he it will be 100 percent. He said he still wears a brace for drop foot but only when he is on the field for protection and support.

What are the next steps?

“Just constant growth,” Smith said. “Everything we’ve done we’ve started off slowly and gradually progressed, and it’s always gotten better. I don’t anticipate that stopping.”

He said he has no limitations but just rust.

“When you take a year off there’s some little work, ins and outs that you have to get back used to coming off an injury, but I feel like myself,” Smith said.

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

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