Do you remember the scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 where Uma Thurman is in the backseat of a car trying to get her big toe to move? Now, I don’t mean to play spoilers, but her big toe did finally move and she eventually went on a vengeful rampage that was one for the ages.
Guess who else has a big toe that’s moving?
After a serious knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, Jaylon Smith suffered damage to his peroneal nerve that left him unable to flex his toes on his left foot. But those days are no more. Those toes are flexing and the Cowboys' young linebacker was able to go through his first ever NFL practice.
Such a beautiful sight it was.
Smith is currently undergoing a long rehabilitation process that at times has left everyone in the dark on whether or not he would ever return to the game of football. And while there are still a wide range of opinions regarding the type of player Jaylon Smith will become, one thing we know for sure is - he’s making great progress.
Recently, David Moore from Dallas Morning News provided some sound reasoning why the Cowboys are so optimistic about Smith’s recovery. Let’s examine some of those reasons.
Reason #1: The Progress of the Nerve
For the first nine months, there was little to no indication that the nerve was regenerating. Some fans took this as a really bad sign and threw up their hands in disgust proclaiming he was a wasted pick. Well, this window of nothingness was expected. There is not a set time that the nerve suddenly wakes up. It was not detrimental that nothing was happening during this time, however, what was crucial is that it eventually got going. Improvement was slow at first, but recently it has taken off. As Moore describes:
Sensory perception has returned for Smith, a feeling not unlike water running downstream from his knee to his toes. Full range of motion hasn't returned, but he's now able to lift his toes toward his shin. Those who observe Smith walk without a brace will tell you he doesn't drag his foot the way he did even a few weeks ago.
Reason #2: The Functionality of his Foot
While Smith can flex his foot up, he cannot strike it back down on his own and requires the use of an AFO (ankle-foot orthosis) brace to carry out the natural movement of his foot. This brace is imperative in order for him to be able to run around on the football field. As the nerve regenerates more, the less work the brace has to do. Moore explains this further:
For the sake of argument let's say the nerve only regenerates to 80 percent. The tension of the brace can be adapted to compensate for that percentage. If Smith experiences regeneration at say 60 percent, the brace would need to be stiffer to offer more support.
The rapid growth that the nerve is now achieving is a great reason for optimism in Cowboys camp. The more recovery he makes, the less dependent he’ll be on the brace. And if you asked Jerry Jones, he’d tell you that Smith might not need the brace come September. But don’t ask him. Jerry can be a little overly optimistic at times. However, just because Smith has to wear it, doesn’t mean he’s going to be out there spinning his wheels. He’s still Jaylon Smith. He’s just Jaylon Smith with a brace.
Reasons #3: The Attitude
The type of person Jaylon is also has a lot to do with the level of excitement when it comes to his progress. This kid has been radically committed towards rejuvenating into the star athlete he knows he can be. There won’t be any concerns about him not being in football shape. His limitations haven’t thwarted his ability to prepare his body. And there won’t be any concern about having to step in and learn a new system. He’s been a student of Cowboys football for over a year. He’s not your typical red-shirt rookie.
This is one of those things that people are going to have to see it before they believe it. That’s fine. And thankfully, that time is nearing. Smith is confident he will be a full go by the season opener against the New York Giants. And you better believe there won’t be a single player on the field with more to prove than number 54.