The much-awaited game debut for Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith happened on Saturday night.
And Smith didn’t disappoint in his 12 snaps against the Indianapolis Colts. He delivered on a third-down stop, tackling tight end Jack Doyle short of the first-down marker.
Smith did his signature “swipe” after the play. It forced a second straight three-and-out to open the game for the Cowboys’ defense.
“It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be out here,” Smith said. “It’s a blessing to be playing for America’s Team. I’m so honored just to play the game I love. From day one, I’ve believed in myself, and I thank all the supporters everywhere, even everyone who doubted me. I love you guys, and I just appreciate you guys just recognizing me in any way. I’m thankful to be here, and it was a great night.”
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Smith hadn’t registered a tackle in a game in 596 days. He was credited with one tackle in Notre Dame’s bowl game Jan. 1, 2016, the same day he sustained a major knee injury.Smith tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. Damage to the peroneal nerve was more problematic.
Some teams were so concerned Smith may never see the field again that they took him off their draft boards entirely. But the Cowboys felt Smith was a top talent even though he’d miss his rookie season, and used an early-second round pick in the 2016 draft to get him.
The Cowboys felt comfortable enough that Smith would eventually recover, partly because their team physician, Dr. Daniel Cooper, did the surgery. Cooper gave a timeline of 9-15 months for the nerve to fully recover.
Smith has worked diligently in his rehab to return to game action, and his debut certainly had good vibes for everyone within the organization. He took part in 10 of 14 padded practices during the Cowboys’ training camp in Oxnard, California.
“It was great to see him out there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s worked so hard to earn this opportunity to go play. He looked like he was around the ball, looked like he played with a great spirit. We’ll check out the tape to see how he actually played, but it was fun for all of us to see him out there.”