Jaylon Smith’s comeback from injury for the Dallas Cowboys has been remarkable. There were times when many doubted he would play again, or even if he did, that he could be effective. Two games into the 2017 season, Smith has laid those worries to rest. Having to play many more snaps than anticipated after Anthony Hitchens was hurt, Smith has recorded 17 tackles in two games and has one forced fumble according to official NFL stats. All the while he’s played on roughly 77% of the Cowboys defensive snaps, with seeming no relapse of his injury. An amazing comeback to be sure.
On Monday night, Smith re-visits the place where his injury occurred. University of Phoenix Stadium hosted the Fiesta Bowl that was played close to two years ago, a game between Notre Dame and Ohio State. It was in the first quarter of that bowl game when Smith tore his ACL and suffered nerve damage that started his long road back to playing football. He’s not worried about returning and any bad memories.
“I don’t focus on the past and things like that,” Smith said. “We’re looking for a great opportunity to play against a great team in the Arizona Cardinals, looking forward to going out there and getting their all.”
So there’s no mental hurdle?
“No, no, no. None whatsoever,” Smith said. “From the start, God got me. You know what I mean? So I don’t go out there worrying about anything of that nature.”
With Anthony Hitchens still sidelined, the Cowboys have decided that Smith is the man in the middle and after playing him on 61% of the snaps in the Giants game, they left him out there for 88% against Denver. According to the coaches film, they have him leading the team with 23 tackles. Their confidence is growing in him, but last week’s defensive effort against the Broncos was poor, to say the least.
“It can definitely be better,” Smith said. “I have extremely high expectations for myself and my play and I want to be perfect. I strive for perfection, so you know, [I’m] really looking forward to playing against the Cardinals [on] Monday night.”
Smith, and the Cowboys, are pleased so far with his return, but the one thing he’s looking for is making big plays again. His only “splash” play was the forced fumble. He hasn’t had a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass breakup, an interception or those other big plays that can change momentum. Those things will come. It would be sweet justice if they came in a return to the scene of the crime.