Expectations are high for Jaylon Smith, who is returning from a gruesome knee injury. It should be in the Dallas Cowboys best interest to move him into the lineup slowly.
For a guy who has never played a snap of professional football and is coming off a major knee injury, there’s a lot of pressure on linebacker Jaylon Smith to be a difference-maker for the Dallas Cowboys off the rip.
Maybe a little too much pressure.
The linebacker has drawn rave reviews from his teammates, coaches and owner Jerry Jones himself, and it appears the linebacker is the frontrunner to start at middle linebacker for Dallas.
According to Brandon George, The Dallas Morning News:
"“The Cowboys expect Smith to start at middle linebacker and are proceeding as if he’ll be good to go from the opening kickoff."
It’s no surprise the Cowboys envision him as a starter– before his injury, Smith was a lock to be drafted in the top 10 in the 2016 draft, and is a three down player who could be a major game changer on defense.
But that was before his injury, and although he looks like he’s ready to go this year, perhaps overtaxing Smith by having him start at middle linebacker, the most physical of the linebacker spots, isn’t necessarily the smartest idea.
Smith apparently impressed in OTA’s, but it was evident the linebacker was still feeling the lingering effects of surgery.
"“Look closely enough, and you can detect a slight limp as Jaylon Smith walks across the field. There are times, such as in a seven-on-seven drill at the Dallas Cowboys’ final minicamp practice [last month], when it seems to take a beat for the linebacker to change direction and accelerate."
While a few residual bumps and bruises are to be expected after coming back from major knee surgery, it should still be a red flag for the Cowboys coaching staff if they plan on starting Jaylon Smith and giving him the lion’s share of snaps at MLB.It’s evident with his speed, natural instincts, and football IQ, he’s going to be a special linebacker in coverage, so the Cowboys would be better off starting him off as a third down coverage specialist.
As the season progresses, he should earn more and more snaps, and eventually a starting spot in the lineup if he shows he can handle the workload. That’s essentially what the Cowboys did with Sean Lee, who didn’t break out until late in his rookie season, and was promoted to starter the following year.
With their similarly vast skill sets, Lee and Smith could ultimately prove to form one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL. But it also shouldn’t be rushed.