Jaylon Smith is going to play in the preseason, coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday.
Garrett wouldn’t specify in what game the Dallas Cowboys would have Smith make his long-awaited debut. It could be Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams, or Aug. 19 against the Indianapolis Colts.
But Garrett said Smith would “absolutely” play in the preseason.
Smith, 22, continues to make a favorable impression on the Cowboys in his return from a severe knee injury he sustained on Jan. 1, 2016. Smith missed all of last season recovering from the injury in which he tore the anterior cruciate and medical collateral ligaments in his left knee, and had damage to the peroneal nerve.
The nerve is firing again, though, and Smith has been among the highlights early in training camp. He’s practiced in five of the team’s eight padded practices, taking Tuesday off with linebacker Sean Lee scheduled to be off Wednesday.
“You look at where he is and assess what he’s doing and the improvement is coming,” linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said. “It’s there. It’s tangible. You can see it and we’re excited about it. He’s improving physically and mentally every single day.”
Smith has done everything the Cowboys have wanted and more. The coaching staff and front office consistently praise his mindset and mentality on a daily basis.
Smith has checked every box to date, ranging from going through team drills to practicing in pads on consecutive days.
The next step, of course, is getting in game action. It could happen as soon as Saturday. None of the coaches tipped their hand, but it will be a significant step when it does happen.
“I certainly am happy for him when I see him out there hitting and playing,” Eberflus said. “That makes me happy to see that for the man. Then you have to take the emotion out. Whenever you’re a coach looking at game tape or practice tape, you take the personality out and evaluate the number. This is all about performance.”
Added Garrett: “The best thing he has done is the thing we all have to do as people, as coaches, as players, as a football team is focus on the task at hand, come to work every day and try to get better. He’s done an amazing job of that and has been an inspiration to all of us. He’s come back from a long road.
“He’s done an outstanding job for us.”
The Cowboys and guard Zack Martin have yet to reach a contract extension, but executive vice president Stephen Jones remains hopeful something will get worked out.
“It takes time,” Jones said. “That’s usually kind of how these things work. There’s a whole lot of zero progress, then all of a sudden you make some.”
The Cowboys and Martin have mutual interest in keeping the partnership together for a long time, but it will be a significant pay day. Martin is widely regarded as one of the top guards in the league, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2014 and 2016 and second-team honors in 2015.
Martin’s contract is expected to surpass the one the Cleveland Browns handed to Kevin Zeitler, who became the highest-paid guard this offseason with a five-year, $60 million deal.
Martin, 26, is under Cowboys control for the next two seasons. The organization exercised their fifth-year option on him during the offseason, which means Martin would be paid $9.3 million in 2018 if no extension is reached.
But the Cowboys have had success in locking up offensive linemen in previous training camps with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. Jones is hopeful to keep that streak going with Martin.
“It’s too early for me to speculate whether we’re close or whether this thing can get done or not,” Jones said. “Obviously, we would love to get it done. But there’s two sides to this, and certainly it’s not easy to figure out exactly where it should be.
“As I said, I fully suspect we’ll figure something out at some point in time, and he’ll be a Dallas Cowboy for most of his career.”