Jaylon Smith’s journey back from a severe knee injury in college that threatened to end his football career to suiting up Saturday night for the Dallas Cowboys has been well-documented.
His older brother, Rod Smith, has fallen more into the background.
Rod Smith is an undrafted free agent who joined the Cowboys’ organization in 2015. After spending last season working as a fullback, Rod has returned to the running back position and is making a case to be on the 53-man roster, especially with Ezekiel Elliott facing a six-game suspension.
In a training camp marked by controversy ranging from suspensions to Elliott and Damontre Moore to the bizarre release of Lucky Whitehead in what became a case of mistaken identity, the Smith brothers’ play serves as a genuinely positive story for the Cowboys.
Both shined on Saturday night in the Cowboys’ preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.
“It’s a great story there that’s happening with those Smith boys here right on our team,” owner Jerry Jones said. “So maybe they’ll feed off each other.”
They certainly have to date.
Jaylon made his professional debut, playing only 12 snaps. But he made a third down stop for his first tackle in 596 days.
“He looks like he belongs,” Rod said. “It’s nothing new. I’ve been seeing it all my life.”
Jaylon endured a long journey back to football. He had been out of game action for almost 19 months after sustaining a severe knee injury in Notre Dame’s bowl game on Jan. 1, 2016.
Jaylon tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee. Damage to the peroneal nerve was more problematic.
Some NFL teams were concerned Smith would never play again and took him off their draft boards entirely. The Cowboys felt comfortable enough to use an early second-round pick on him.
Saturday served as a significant day for the entire organization to see Smith take the field.
“He played with a great spirit and he has a great spirit right now after the ballgame,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s just the start, but it certainly is a good one for him.”
Rod had a standout game himself.
He averaged more than seven yards a carry, finishing with 53 rushing yards on seven carries, and also had three catches for 27 yards.
In the Cowboys’ first two preseason games, Rod combined for 19 carries for 66 yards and four catches for 30 yards.
“That’s my big brother, doing his thing,” Jaylon said. “He’s very comfortable back at the running back position. Last year he switched to fullback, a position he never played before. Had to gain 10 pounds. He’s confident. Looking like his old self.
“We feed off of each other. He did his thing. I’m very proud of him. I’m his No. 1 fan.”
The early signs point to Rod and Jaylon both being contributors this season.
Outside of his running ability, Rod is a proven special teams player. He looks more like himself, as Jaylon alluded to, after losing the 10 pounds he put on to transition to fullback.
Rod feels as though he belongs in the league, as he said: “I can hold my own” multiple times after Saturday’s game.
“You saw what 45’s [Rod] doing out there. 45’s really, I can tell you firsthand, building a lot of confidence with the coaching staff and with his teammates,” Jones said. “He could be very important for us too, as we again look at our depth and look at what we’re going to do on this roster.”
Yes, the Smith brothers are making names for themselves this camp. Rod is well aware that Jaylon is the “household name” of the two, but each of them is trending the right way.
They walked into the Cowboys’ locker room side-by-side after their big nights, 45 and 54 joking around. The fact that it came against the Indianapolis Colts made it even sweeter for the Fort Wayne, Indiana, natives.
“It’s good to share a field with your brother and it’s a blessing,” Rod said. “It’s a blessing for us, for the city of Fort Wayne and definitely hope we made the fans of the Dallas Cowboys proud.”
Cowboys vs. Raiders
7 p.m. Saturday, KTVT/11