DALLAS — Much has changed about the Dallas Cowboys since last season. Gone is the majority of the coaching staff and some of the players who were part of an unacceptable 2019 campaign where Dallas finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
One those disappointing pieces from a failed season a year ago could be headed for a bounce-back 2020 season. It’s early in training camp, but the reports have been very positive about linebacker Jaylon Smith’s play so far. Smith’s name continues to pop-up as one of the stars from Cowboys camp as they continue to prepare for their first season under new head coach Mike McCarthy.
Smith endeared himself to Cowboys fans everywhere with his inspirational play coming back from a major knee injury that he suffered in his final game at Notre dame.
While recovering in 2016, Smith had a positive outlook and shared his motto of #cleareyeview to stay optimistic. Smith played in 2017 but was a shell of the player he was before his injury when he was considered one of the premier prospects in the 2016 draft before landing with Dallas in the second round.
The big step forward came in 2018 when Smith was one of the best defenders on the field for the Cowboys. Smith compiled 121 tackles, four sacks and had two forced fumbles while being one of the motivational leaders for Dallas’ defense.
Most expected another step forward from Smith in 2019. The Cowboys rewarded Smith with a shiny new contract worth $64 million over five years.
However, as the whole defense seemed to stagnate around him, most everyone was disappointed in Smith’s play last season. Although Smith put up some stellar stats and returned to the Pro Bowl, he wasn’t the difference maker that the team had anticipated. Smith’s play often looked anything but inspired. For the first time, there appeared to be some cracks in the armor Smith had built up during his return.
The 2020 season is here and it’s a new day for Smith and the Cowboys’ defense. Smith will no longer be manning the middle at LB, instead he’s now playing the Will, or weakside linebacker spot.
Recently, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan explained that the switch up will give Smith more freedom to play like he did in his impactful college days.
As the WLB, Smith will now have the opportunity to run to the ball without having to take on blockers and offensive linemen, which wasn’t the case last season. And the team’s newfound dedication to bigger defensive linemen – see Poe, Dontari – taking up space in front of him, Smith won’t have to sift through as much traffic while pursuing the ball now.
Smith’s new spot in the defense should also allow him the opportunity to rush the passer more often this season, something he’s proven to be adept at when given the chance.
The new defensive staff seems to have a different plan for the fifth-year LB than the previous regime. Jaylon Smith’s already had one big comeback in his career and he could be in line for another revival in the Cowboys’ new look defense. Based on the reports from Frisco, he’s off to a good start in 2020.
Do you think the Cowboys will see a return of outstanding play from their linebacker corp in 2020? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.