There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to Aldon Smith, but there are reasons to be hopeful. Recently, the veteran spoke out about his return to the game.
“For me, like with most people, I think if anybody really wants to change, it comes from within,” he said. “And so I got to a point where I was fed up with how I was living my life, and I knew I needed to change if I wanted to be something and get back ahold of my life.”
Fast forward a year, and that certainly seems to be the case. Smith is sober and has been working out diligently, as evidenced by the Cowboys’ decision to sign him back at the beginning of April. He is currently weighing in at “a very fit 285,” and as of this week he has been cleared to take part in the Cowboys’ virtual offseason program. While it has been a long layoff since he last played football, Smith said he doesn’t think much of it because he knows what he’s capable of doing.
“I still feel great. I still feel young, I still can move well. I still have a great knowledge of the game, if not a better knowledge of the game,” he said.
If feels a little serendipitous of how everything came together for Smith to be joining the Cowboys.
The first big question after Mike McCarthy was hired as the Dallas Cowboys head coach was who would be filling out his coaching staff? When that question was answered shortly afterwards, it was clear the staff would be filled with veteran coaches, including Jim Tomsula as the defensive line coach.
Only a few months later, the Cowboys shocked the football world by signing Smith, who had been away from the NFL for four years, meaning he’ll be reunited with the last coach he played for. “Getting back and being with Jim is definitely exciting,” Smith said Friday. “We had a great time together with the group of guys that we had and the success that we had there. I just love how Jim allows us to go out and be free on the field and not feel like we’re in a box.”
McCarthy, too, had interactions with Smith before the Cowboys approached him in free agency. Smith had been working with the Merging Veterans and Players Program in California, which works with players and military veterans and addresses issues like alcohol and substance addiction. McCarthy was an early financial donor to the program and met Smith there in January.
Aldon Smith’s trainer calls him ‘an old battleship.’ And the work to make him NFL-ready began in dry dock - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News
Smith’s trainer Brandon Tucker has been very forthcoming about expectations for the veteran after his long hiatus, and it’s refreshing to hear some positive things.
“He does everything that I ask of him,” Tucker said in a Friday phone interview. “He’s on time. He’s never missed. He’s been receptive to instruction. We’re just systematically trying to get his football feet back underneath him. The first time we met and visited, I basically told him, ‘You’re like an old battleship that’s been in dry dock.’ “When you get ready to send that battleship back out to sea, you’ve got to systematically start the systems. You can’t just fire it up and go. You’ve got to make sure everything still works. You’ve got to run it through a bunch of tests. That’s what we’re doing with the big fella.”
While all eyes will be on the right defensive end spot, we should also be excited about what’s going on over on the left.
After the Cowboys traded for defensive end Robert Quinn last offseason, Lawrence suffered a decline in sack numbers. Quinn had an overachieving season in Dallas in 2019, sacking the quarterback 11.5 times in 14 games. Lawrence had just 5.0 sacks in 16 games. With Lawrence accounting for $21.9 million of the team’s cap room in 2020, he will have pressure to do more for the team.
To his credit, even with the low sack total, Tank was able to have an impact on the field, generating a great help to the run defense. Lawrence also faced double teams quite often, generating greater opportunities for players like Quinn to get into the backfield. With that being said, other star pass rushers in the NFL such as defensive tackle Aaron Donald from the Los Angeles Rams and linebacker Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears face similar attention from opposing offensive lines but still find a way to disrupt the quarterback.
Analyzing Lawrence’s production & potential Dak Deal with PFF’s Steve Palazzolo - Bob Sturm, The Athletic
Bob Sturm chats with Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo as they discuss a couple hot Cowboys topics, including what to make of Tank.
PALAZZOLO: I think Lawrence took a step back in 2019 as a pass rusher, but the sack totals are definitely a misguided way to quantify that. His sack totals were more than cut in half; however, numbers like PFF pass-rush grade and pass-rush win percentage are better indicators of overall impact. Lawrence saw his pass-rush grade drop from 82.7 to 78.6, certainly a difference, but not as poor as a “five-sack season” would indicate. His win percentage also dropped but from 16.9 percent to 15.8 percent. So he’s still an effective pass rusher (and) the sack totals should positively regress back toward 10 with similar performance. Both seasons paled in comparison to his incredible 2017, however.
Five youngsters who might surprise people this year, including an edge rusher some have all but forgotten about.
DE Joe Jackson
Jackson was another rookie who had a decent showing in the 2019 preseason, but never got a ton of playing time during the regular season. Appearing in just six games, Jackson didn’t produce any significant statistics. However, the Cowboys do still need help at DE. Even with defensive ends Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory (hopefully) returning, the defense could use someone who has seen game action in the last two years. If Jackson took the off-season to work on his body and improve his technique, the Cowboys might have someone who can contribute more in 2020.
The addition of Aldon Smith produces an influx of defensive ends, so what does that mean for Tyrone Crawford’s role on the team?
The Dallas Cowboys currently have several younger, more athletic defensive ends on the roster and that could make Tyrone Crawford nothing more than a progress stopper. It’s hard enough to get younger players the reps and practice time they need to develop, but having an aging player with recent injury concerns ahead of them on the depth chart makes things even more difficult. Sometimes it’s in the best interest of the team to cut ties with these “progress stoppers”, especially ones who can create quite a bit of salary-cap relief as well. Add it all up and Crawford’s days with the Cowboys could be numbered.
And if edge rushers weren’t deep enough, you might be able to add another one to the list with Jaylon Smith. The Mothership continues their positional breakdown with the focus turning to the linebackers.
Need to Figure Out
How can defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme benefit Jaylon Smith? For the last three years, Smith has been the starting middle linebacker in the Cowboys’ base 4-3 scheme. As the ‘quarterback’ on defense, he’s responsible for getting the group lined up pre-snap and making sideline-to-sideline plays. He reached his first Pro Bowl last year with 168 tackles in the first season of a new five-year contract extension.
Smith might be a linebacker first, but he also has a knack for getting to the quarterback. That type of versatility seems like a good fit for Nolan, who has implemented a base 4-3 and 3-4 scheme at previous stops. He doesn’t seem to view those designations as rigid ones. The Cowboys are still classifying themselves as a 4-3 defense, but Nolan emphasizes his goal is to get the “best 11” on the field and find ways to maximize their talents.
Kelsey, Meg, and RJ all gathered around to talk about important football stuff like Grey’s Anatomy, Charles Haley runaway doberman, and tiny football helmets that came out of gumball machines. Kelsey also shares the only time she’s ever worn an Eagles jersey as she dressed on Halloween as “DeMarco Murray with cable.”