Dallas Cowboys fans have been anxiously watching for news about the recovery of Jaylon Smith, the superbly talented linebacker who was drafted in the second round a year ago, despite having suffered a severe knee injury that caused him to miss his entire rookie year. Some news has indeed come out - but it is hardly what we were hoping for.
#Cowboys exec Stephen Jones was optimistic Jaylon Smith will be effective. Yet the nerve has seen “no significant change,” source said.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 1, 2017
#Cowboys reality now is they are no longer waiting for Jaylon Smith’s knee to fire. They’re proceeding as if it won’t & he’ll play anyway— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 1, 2017
There was always a possibility that Smith would never fully recover from the injury in his final bowl game. We have been repeatedly told that no one has ever played in the NFL with a brace for “drop foot”, the problem caused by the nerve that is still not firing. But the Cowboys seem confident that he can.
Rapoport’s tweets on the subject seem to be rooted in what appeared to be another positive report from Stephen Jones, as reported by Todd Archer of ESPN.
"I think the sky's the limit," Jones said. "I think he's got a great opportunity -- if he keeps on his current path -- to be a dominant player for us. Now to say I expect that when he's not there yet? That's tough to have that expectation. But I think we do expect him to contribute and be a big part of our defense this year. The question is how physically well he gets by the start of next season in terms of does some of what he still has hampering him somewhat."
Smith continues to wear a brace on his left foot as he awaits the nerve to re-generate but Jones said Smith can play with the brace if necessary.
"And then the question is how effective can he be in that brace?" Jones said. "We think he's going to be real effective but how effective remains to be seen and that's why I think it's difficult to say, ‘Well, we expect him to be the dominant player he was at Notre Dame.' That's probably high expectations. Is it possible? Absolutely."
Jones seems to be saying that the team is still hoping for recovery, but believes that Smith can be a contributor even if he does not have full regeneration of his damaged nerve. Rapoport takes this as a much more negative report, with a little extra input from the unnamed source.
The Cowboys have downplayed injuries before, but Smith has also posted multiple videos to social media that seem to show him moving very well even with his brace.
The problem appears to be that Smith is still not fully recovered, and there is still no way to know when or if he ever will be. He could be 100% ready by the OTAs, by the start of training camp, by sometime during the regular season - or never. That has always been the case. There are still months to go before he would have to go into an NFL game with the brace. The simple fact is that we don’t know how this will turn out.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, much has been made about the fact no one has ever played in the NFL with a brace like that. But Charean Williams of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram disputes that.
At least one NFL offensive lineman wears an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), according to a source.
That is something new to add to the equation. And at the moment, we can only wait and wonder how this will turn out. What is clear is that the Cowboys are expecting Smith to play, with or without the brace. Until we see him on the field, we won’t know how well he can perform. OTAs will be the first chance to find out where things stand, and a clear picture may not emerge until training camp and the preseason games.
This story is hardly over. We just don’t know how well it will turn out.