The most watched player during training camp for the Dallas Cowboys has undoubtedly been Jaylon Smith. He is exciting the fan base and the media alike with his progress in returning to football after his devastating knee injury. But there is another member of his family on the Dallas roster. His brother Rod Smith is working to earn a spot on the running back depth chart, and he is making a convincing case.
The depth chart at RB has Ezekiel Elliott (of course) as the starter, and Darren McFadden as his backup. But you need more than that. Alfred Morris came into camp as the incumbent at RB3, but Smith has been a real standout so far. Here are some of the things that have come out about him.
Garrett and Marinelli begging the defense to get a stop, to no avail. Rod Smith with the score pic.twitter.com/TcLbdnHuXT— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) August 1, 2017
Rod Smith. House call. pic.twitter.com/WLvJG8Hqeh— David Helman (@HelmanDC) July 27, 2017
Rod Smith. Underrated. pic.twitter.com/5fHSQazySq— David Helman (@HelmanDC) July 27, 2017
Jaylon Smith is unlikely to play in the Hall of Fame Game, but RB Rod Smith, his brother & camp roomie, is going to get a ton of carries.— Kate Hairopoulos (@khairopoulos) August 1, 2017
Even though thy aren't tackling, this is an obvious TD. Rod Smith having a solid camp. pic.twitter.com/Zq2eLllqdD— David Helman (@HelmanDC) July 31, 2017
Rod Smith again ... pic.twitter.com/g8AdYCCvKu— Brandon George (@DMN_George) August 1, 2017
Rod Smith finding the end zone multiple times in goal line work.— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) August 1, 2017
Rod Smith continues to impress at Cowboys camp: pic.twitter.com/JSpxLiAqJM— Brandon George (@DMN_George) August 1, 2017
While this is just practice, the sheer volume of good plays is indicative of how Smith is showing up this year. He is showing every sign of supplanting Morris as the RB3.
Smith took a circuitous route to this point. In 2015, the Seattle Seahawks signed him as a UDFA, and he played in one game for them before being released. The Cowboys picked him up off waivers, and he appeared in 10 games that year, mostly on special teams. In 2016, the team converted him to fullback, although he would only play on teams again that year. He was released in November when the team had to find cornerback help due to injuries in the secondary. The team brought him back on a futures contract after the season, and moved him back to running back. He has literally taken the ball and run with it.
His experience as a special teams player is actually a great advantage for him over Morris, who is not a teams’ guy. As a backup, he is much more likely to contribute with the ST, while still being available as depth at RB. In practices, he is showing a complete game, catching the ball well out of the backfield as well as running it effectively in both normal and short yardage/goal line situations. Flexibility is a valued trait on a Jason Garrett coached team. By filling two roles, Smith becomes a good option for the team when the cut down comes.
It could well mean that Rod will see more plays this fall than Jaylon, especially early in the year while the team is bringing the latter along deliberately (as Garrett so often puts it).
That is all dependent on him making the roster, but right now, the signs are all pointing in his direction. Morris may still make the roster as well. However, at the moment, the most likely way things may shake out would be for Elliott, McFadden, and Smith to be the running backs, with Keith Smith (no relation) on the roster as a fullback. (And of course, if called on to carry the ball, Rod may find himself running behind Tyron Smith, also no relation, at times. There is a plethora of Smiths on the Cowboys.)
A bigger threat to Smith’s roster spot may be recently-signed Ronnie Hillman. Hillman is more of a “change of pace” running back, which is something the Cowboys seem to really like, despite the failure to find one healthy enough to matter in recent years. (In related news, former Cowboy Lance Dunbar is out for the season after suffering an injury in camp with the Los Angeles Rams.) While the team may think otherwise, so far Smith has shown himself to be too good to forego for a position where Dallas has gotten little production the past few seasons with no real ill effect.
It would be a fun story to have two brothers make the team, but the more important one is that Rod is earning his way onto the roster. Given the importance of the running game for the Dallas offense, they cannot have too many capable backs to tote the ball. And with Elliott still facing a possible suspension of unknown length (thanks oh so much, Roger Goodell and the NFL disciplinary “system”), Smith may see some meaningful carries early in the season.
Right now, that does not look to be at all a concern for the Cowboys. Smith is making a splash in camp, and appears to be primed to carry his momentum all the way into the regular season.