The Dallas Cowboys plan to activate rookie linebacker Jaylon Smith, a huge development in Smith’s recovery from a major knee injury. And while it’s not necessarily a sign that Smith will be a part of the Cowboys’ stretch run, it’s an indicator that the former Notre Dame All-American and Butkus Award winner is making progress after his injury in last season’s Fiesta Bowl sent his career on an unexpected detour.
Cowboys VP Steven Jones announced the news on local Dallas radio, telling 105.3 The Fan that Smith can help the team as the season continues, even if it’s only in practices. From the Dallas News:
“That doesn’t mean anything with change with Jaylon in terms of his routine,” he said. “I don’t actually see him [returning to the field], even though he’s eligible to practice — just to extend your period. If we weren’t to activate him, then they would certainly be done if they don’t start practicing.
Jones also said the team will not activate tight end James Hanna, who underwent season-ending knee surgery. He had a previous surgery in August.
“So really it’ll just be Jaylon and McFadden that we’d give that shot to keep them alive,” Jones said. “And McFadden will actually return to practice full bore. But Jaylon’s routine won’t change at the moment.”
Much of the focus on Smith’s return has been focused on the nerve in his knee regenerating. The nerve was the major reason why Smith slid from the draft’s first five picks until the second round, a time-consuming process and a recovery that doesn’t always happen.
A source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed that Smith’s nerve is responding as the team and Smith had hoped. While he’s not at full power, he has taken major strides in the months he’s been working with the Cowboys medical staff, who feel confident enough in the overall health of Smith’s knee (he also reportedly suffered ACL and LCL tears) to allow him to participate in practice, less than 11 months after the initial injury.
Smith’s recovery comes as no surprise to those who coached and played with him in South Bend. Former head coach Brian Kelly had this to say about Smith earlier this year.
“You don’t need to worry about that with Jaylon Smith. He could fall to the seventh round. He’s going to be a star in the NFL. It really doesn’t matter,” Kelly said this spring. “He’s so driven and so focused on what’s in front of him that he’ll overcome this. I have no doubt about it.
“This is a generational player. You go generations and don’t get a player or a kid like this.”