Despite being sidelined all of last season due to injury, Dallas Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith has been receiving a first-class NFL education from Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee.
When the Dallas Cowboys used the 34th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft to select injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys knew they had a long road ahead of them. Hopeful that Smith could play last season but realistic enough to be patient and wait it out, Dallas’ second round gamble may finally start paying off this upcoming season.
With the 22-year old linebacker preparing for his first training camp with the Cowboys, all eyes will be on Smith’s left knee, which he injured during the Fiesta Bowl last January. Along with a torn ACL, Jaylon suffered significant nerve damage which had some worried he’d never play football again.
A year and a half later, and Smith is preparing to put on pads and finally start hitting again. And although the Cowboys will likely take things very slow with the second-year rookie, fan excitement is at an all-time high as Jaylon is essentially a first round-level player taking closer steps towards his highly anticipated debut.
Again, it’s been a long road back for Smith. But his now legendary optimism and contagious personality has everyone in the organization from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to the ball boys cheering for him. And through this extended layoff from actually playing football, Smith has found a kindred spirit. That being two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee.
"“To be able to have a relationship, a friendship, with someone who has performed at the highest level and has dealt with the adversity of missing an entire season, and see [Lee’s] response, to see his approach, that means a lot. That means so much to me,” Smith told Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine via the team’s official website. “And we have a knack for one another. We have a lot in common. We both share a definite love for the game of football. And we can both watch film for hours and just talk football and schemes and scenarios. Spending this last year with him, even though I wasn’t on the field, it’s definitely been a tremendous education for me.”"
There is likely no better mentor for the young Smith than Lee. A former second round selection out of Penn State in 2010, the 31-year old veteran has struggled with injuries his entire career. Even missing the entire 2014 season due to a torn ACL he suffered during OTA’s.
But in his last two seasons in Dallas, Lee has played in 29 games (missing just three), racked up 273 total tackles, been to the Pro Bowl twice and was named first team All-Pro in 2016.
Bottom line is Sean Lee is a veteran, not just at being a Pro Bowl level linebacker, but at being a resilient individual who has had success coming back from difficult injuries. And that’s exactly the kind of person you want mentoring Jaylon Smith. A young man many expect to become the Dallas Cowboys’ next great defender.