Listening to Cowboys coaches over the last couple of years and the one quality you repeatedly hear attributed to the young man is his work ethic on display during his recovery. Make no mistake about it, Jaylon is still “in recovery.”
Since Jerry Jones exalted in spending “only” second-round draft currency on the talented, but severely injured MLB in the 2016 NFL Draft Smith has been “working hard.” This entails an attention to detail few can fathom. The man is attentive in every rehab drill. Every one. Each and every day. Each week. Every month. All of them. His attitude remains upbeat and focused while his belief in his eventual recovery has never wavered since his horrific injury right before the draft of that year. To keep such a positive outlook for so long takes tremendous mental discipline. Impressive is an understatement.
For two solid years, Smith has persevered mentally while fully aware his physical abilities were nowhere near what they were before the incident. He has heard the echoes of “bust” in the press yet still managed to play a full 16 game schedule last season while working on 1.8 wheels. He has had to learn the NFL game at the same time he’s learning his new limitations. Then he has to challenge those limitations on a daily basis while still finding a way to be valuable in the scheme. He struggled, yet he never quit and he always improved.
You can’t help but be impressed about the player and more importantly, the man. And that’s the rub. Because the team spent a valuable second-round pick on Jaylon and Jerry Jones boasted of the “top-5 value” the Cowboys got with the selection he is judged thusly. Morris Claiborne’s evolution was stunted by this type of pressure as he struggled to come back from injury. Confidence is no small thing.
If the best thing you can say about a pick is it wasn’t a total bust, then it’s a bust. But you have to pay close attention to that sentence because it’s about the pick, not about the player and that is key here because Jaylon continues to improve both in his rehab and with his NFL game. He recently established he has been working out sans the foot brace he was forced to wear all of last season and that level of recovery is exciting indeed. One would have to believe the on-field impact will be significant.
Smith isn’t 100% yet. Last season it was obvious he had issues changing direction and that it was going to take time for him to mold his (impaired) skills to the NFL game. The team made it clear they believe Smith was a much more effective player with a reduced workload (fewer game reps) and spent a first round pick on his position in this NFL Draft. He is expected to now be the starting Sam LB, backing up LVE at the Mike and Lee at the Will while the club experiments more with his natural ability to put pressure on the QB.
So the pick may have been a bust (it was) but the arrow is pointing up for Jaylon Smith the player. He is only 22 years old and (finally) won’t be asked to take too many snaps on game day. He is an incredible athlete and will now be able to do some things in reality that last year he was only able to do in his mind.
The triumvirate of Lee, LVE and Smith are the most talented the Cowboys have been at the LB position for many, many years. The core of LVE and Smith gives Dallas two, young, talented players to grow with for many years as each player should only improve as the seasons’ progress.
Jaylon Smith “worked hard” his first season. Last year he was a “work in progress.” This season it just may be time to take the brace and the training wheels off of a player who has the ability to put some serious pressure on the QB. That “works” for me.
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over