Jaylon Smith was overworked in 2017, but the third-year linebacker said he needed every bit of it after coming back from knee surgery that wiped out his entire ‘16 season. He played last season with a brace on his left foot and ankle because of drop foot.
For Thursday’s first official day of Dallas Cowboys’ training camp, Smith was brace-free and moving better than ever.
“That was a long time ago,” Smith said of last year’s first day of camp. “(I’m improved) in all phases, from the movement, from the explosiveness standpoint, speed, everything. And the numbers show that. It’s a great feeling.”
It’s a good feeling for the Cowboys, too. Smith was second on the team with 99 tackles while playing in all 16 games in 2017. He played more than expected after injuries to Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee.
“Last year I needed all that work to prepare me for now,” he said. “I improved each and every game, and it showed. So this year is a big deal. People thought I’d never play the game again, and I’m here. It’s a blessing, and I’m taking it day by day.”
The addition of rookie Leighton Vander Esch could make linebacker one of the team’s deepest positions in ‘18.
“I believe so. We all care for one another. All of us are hungry, we want to win,” Smith said. “He’s going to do some great things for us. I’m happy to get a chance to play with him for the rest of my career. I ain’t going nowhere.”
The depth might allow the Cowboys defense to show some different looks, which would suit Smith fine.
“I’m a pass rusher at heart. That’s what I do,” he said. “I haven’t really had an opportunity to show that because I’m so versatile. With this defense, I’m excited to be able to tackle a lot of things this year.”