Dallas Cowboys Jaylon Smith: Hope vs. Reality

Aug 1, 2016; Irvine, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 1, 2016; Irvine, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite the praise following his media day performance, fans should temper their expectations concerning Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith.

For the first time ever, Dallas Cowboys’ 2016 second round selection Jaylon Smith participated in OTA’s with the mainstream media watching. And by all accounts, it was a resounding success for the second-year linebacker.

But questions still linger about Smith’s immediate and long term future in Dallas. And those doubts will likely continue until the 21-year old actually plays in a meaningful game.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since the former Notre Dame star suffered a devastating knee injury during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. That unfortunate incident dropped him out of the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and into the Cowboys’ waiting arms early in the second, 34th overall.

After a redshirt year in Dallas and several self-leaked videos of his workouts, the Smith-hype train is a full-go with some Cowboys fans projecting him to be a day one starter come September.

Through all the positivity and optimism laid down by Smith himself, his teammates and the Cowboys organization; the expectations fans have for the young player has likely lapped reality at this point. And surely his performance in front of the camera’s on Wednesday has only fueled those expectations.

"“He’s the complete package,” Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee told ESPN Wednesday. “Physically, mentally, it’s a matter of time before he’s a dominant player. He’s put the work in.”"

The reality is Smith suffered significant nerve damage during his knee injury. And although his doctors have seen positive growth of that nerve, the young linebacker is still having to wear a brace for drop foot. And until that changes, no one really knows if Smith is going to be able to perform at a NFL level while wearing it.

Asking Smith about his injury seems to be akin to talking to the world’s greatest motivational speaker. It’s nothing but sunshine and rainbows in his clear eye view. And that makes sense. In order to recover from a possible career-ending injury like the one Smith suffered last January, having a positive attitude is key to recovery.

But his overwhelming positivity combined with hope-filled quotes made by the Cowboys front office, coaching staff and his teammates equates for some that Smith should be a 10-year Pro Bowler starting this year. The point here being they are all setting the bar way too high publicly for a player coming off such a terrible injury.

Privately, the Cowboys are being very cautious with their second round investment. Monitoring Smith closely and only having him participate in team activities every other day. The team would be wise to be just as cautious in their public proclamations on Smith’s future.

It’s something Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is attempting to do.

"“A lot of it is going to be answered for us with pads,” Marinelli told the Dallas Morning News. “Pads are everything because now it’s bone on bone, it’s weight on weight. It’s all of those things. He’s going through Stage 1 here, and it’s good stuff so far. Step by step, progress and try not to seem more than it is. It’s just progress.”"

In conclusion, Smith’s future is a complete unknown. He certainly could turn out to be the Cowboys starter in Week One. But I believe there is an equal chance he’s placed on Injured Reserve or PUP before the start of the season.

If there was ever a player to temper expectations for, it’s Jaylon Smith. What’s the old saying? “Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.”