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Cowboys News: Jaylon Smith to finally make NFL debut tonight

Latest Cowboys headlines: Jaylon Smith to highlight preseason Week 2; Prescott getting better on deep throws; more.

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylon Smith to highlight NFL's preseason Week 2 - Michael Middlehurst, USA Today
Middlehurst offers a list of 10 non-QB players in the spotlight in week, and top on the list is Jaylon Smith.

The former second-round pick's year-plus wait appears to be over after a knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame left him with nerve damage and significant questions about his future. Smith is set to make his NFL debut Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, though Dallas executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team will have him on a "pitch count." This is the start of what could be an extended process as Smith re-establishes his on-field instincts, but he could be an important asset on a Cowboys defense with a dearth of play makers.

Relief! Cowboys' Jaylon Smith finally will play; what you should expect - Brandon George, SportsDay
Many had doubted whether Jaylon Smith would ever play football again and ridiculed the Cowboys for picking him in the second round 2016 NFL draft. Time to eat some crow.

Despite many doubting that his nerve would ever regenerate - and others pondering even when it did show signs of life whether it'd progress enough that he could play in the NFL - Smith has never wavered with what he calls a clear-eye view.

The Cowboys don't expect Smith to instantly be the same elite player he was in his final season at Notre Dame. That may never materialize. But they do expect Smith to continue to show signs that he's not far from the player many thought would be a top-5 pick in 2016 prior to the left knee injury.

"He'll definitely be on a pitch count," Stephen Jones said. "It's his first time back in live action. Like I've said, he's going to be here for 10-plus years so he doesn't need to go win defensive player of the year the first night out in a preseason game."

Dallas Cowboys see Dak Prescott's improvement during camp - Todd Archer, ESPN
As impressive as Dak Prescott was during training camp practices, his demeanor and daily approach also have his coaches raving.

"He just gets better daily," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "Develops chemistry with all his teammates, not just his offensive teammates. He seems to touch every group. I think I've seen some real physical growth from him even. I think his arm strength has gotten better since he's been here, his anticipation. I've seen some of those physical things, but probably his demeanor and his daily approach [have been great]. It's pretty darn good now for a young guy, but he really works at that."

Prescott getting better on deep throws - WEEI
Dak Prescott has been working hard on improving his deep throws, and it's showing.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Prescott has hit more deep balls in camp this year than the team has in previous camps he's coached since he's been with the Cowboys and that includes a few years with Tony Romo.

"The outside part of the field, he does a really good job of that," Linehan said. "We get a lot of respect with our running game. Being able to do that, especially not just one-on-one throws but down field, I think we improved our ability to do that in a lot of ways. We've hit a lot more deep balls this camp than we have in previous camps in my opinion, so that's a good sign.

"He threw a back-shoulder (pass) to Cole Beasley (Wednesday), probably the best throw I've seen him make in a long time. You have to throw that to one place and you have to have a guy like Cole who can adjust and keep his feet in. That's pro football right there, and I'm not sure he would have tried that last year. Those are a couple of examples. The best thing he does is we call the plays, he runs the plays and executes the plays. That's what the quarterbacks who win in this league do, and that's how we do it here."

Stephen Paea making a bid for starting job - Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Stephen Paea has found his home again as the nose tackle in the Cowboys' 4-3 defense, and has been getting first-team reps with Cedric Thornton out with an injury.

“Just be aggressive in there,” Paea said. “A lot of guys they think of a nose tackle, they’re just there playing with your hands and just playing the run, but Rod just wants more out of the nose tackle. If you don’t pass rush as a nose, then you’re not doing your job, so that’s what he wants from the nose tackle.”

Paea missed the Cowboys’ last preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams with a sore knee, but expects to play Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts.

“We all have that next-man mentality,” Paea said. “I’m out here just taking advantage of all opportunity for me to compete out here. Going out here against the best offensive line in the NFL is a great opportunity for me to get better – make Sunday a little easier for me.”

Combination Of Starters And Bubble Players Worth Watching vs. The Colts - Dallas Cowboys
The four staff writers each offer two players to watch for tonight. Here's David Helman on Stephen Paea:

I was excited to watch Paea against the Rams last weekend, only to discover that the Cowboys left him off the trip to Los Angeles so he could rest his knee. He returned to practice this past week and looked his usual dominant self, even getting the better of elite players like Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. I’ve been plenty impressed by what he can do against his teammates – I want to see what Paea can do against the Colts, who have shaky offensive line play. If he plays the way he practices, he should have quite an outing. I’m not going to be surprised if he’s the Cowboys’ starting nose tackle come Sept. 10.

Five Cowboys-Colts storylines to watch outside of the highly-anticipated debut of Jaylon Smith - Jon Machota, SportsDay
All eyes will be on No. 54 Saturday night at AT&T Stadium. But his isn't the only storyline worth watching.

5. Who will make an impact up front on defense? Stephen Paea has come on strong late in camp. Look for him to start alongside Maliek Collins at the tackle spots.

DeMarcus Lawrence has looked healthy and dominant at times. He'll likely start at one defensive end spot. The other will probably be either Benson Mayowa, who didn't practice Thursday, or first round pick Taco Charlton, who recorded his first sack last weekend.

Charles Tapper and Damontre Moore should also see plenty of opportunities to rush the passer.

5 Players to Watch: Colts @ Cowboys - Kristi Scales, 5 Points Blue
Scales lists CB Duke Thomas as one of the five players to watch tonight. Here's why:

This cornerback turned heads in last Saturday’s game at the Rams. He made a good play on special teams and he got extended time in the nickel slot. He was around the ball. Coach Garrett specifically mentioned Thomas as a young player “who really showed up” in the game. That’s great news for the kid from Copperas Cove, Texas who starred as an All Big 12 Player at The University of Texas. There have been a lot of injuries at cornerback during camp, and Thomas has taken advantage of his opportunity to take reps that would normally go to Jourdan Lewis (hamstring), Chido Awuzie (ankle) or Anthony Brown (hamstring). Thomas, who spent last summer as an undrafted rookie free agent in Houston Texans’ camp, is making a very strong push for a roster spot. He needs to build on the momentum of a great showing last weekend.

Sturm's mailbag: Why Rico Gathers is making the team - Bob Sturm, SportsDay
Sturm answers a bunch of reader questions, one of which is about Rico Gathers.

Q: Does Rico Gathers already have a case for the backup TE job?

He has a case for "a" backup tight end job. Not "THE" backup tight end job. In fact, let's cut the suspense and tell you he is making the team. He just is. And he should be proud of his performance and you should be fired up about his future.

But, I will tell you that he is not the second tight end on the field, but rather a guy who will likely have a package of plays designed around his unique skill set. James Hanna and Geoff Swaim will likely be those blocking tight ends in normal multiple-tight end run looks, but when they need a flexed-out tight end who will be a nightmare to defend, it will be Gathers, if he can provide enough value to be on the gameday roster. And he can provide that value by being a dependable member of the special teams, because you won't dress four tight ends any other way.

Cowboys' offensive line still has a hole to fill as camp winds down - Todd Archer, ESPN
Left guard still remains a question mark for the Cowboys, who appear to have four candidates for the starting role but none emerging during camp.

If the thinking is the Cowboys can get by with anybody at left guard between Smith and Frederick, think again. Defenses know how to exploit weaknesses. They can force one-on-one situations with whomever wins the left guard spot against their top lineman if they want.

So it’s Green, Cooper, Bell or Looney.

And they're truly hoping one of them earns the job between now and Sept. 10 -- and is not just given the job.

There's always a catch (pic via @nflmemes_ig)

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