Jaylon Smith isn’t settling for average — or anywhere near it.
The Dallas Cowboys‘ linebacker revealed his defensive expectations for the upcoming campaign, a barometer that far exceeds their 2018 statistical rankings.
“Dominant. Elite. That’s our desires, but it starts on the practice field today,” Smith said Wednesday, via Jon Machota of The Athletic.
It ended Wednesday, the Cowboys’ training camp participation in Oxnard, Calif., four days after Dallas suffered a 17-9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the preseason opener.
In that contest, Smith recorded one solo tackle. His brethren limited San Francisco’s first- and second-string offense to seven points, notching three sacks and a pair of interceptions. The Niners’ third-stringers led a game-winning drive, clouding an otherwise sunny performance by Dallas, though defensive assistant Kris Richard views live-bullet situations as premium opportunities for growth.
“Once we get out here and things get turned up, truly it’s how gold is refined,” Richard said prior to the game. “We won’t know what we have until we get out here, until we get out into the preseason games. The fire gets turned up, and we start to burn off all the impurities.”
Despite boasting talent at all three levels, the Cowboys’ defense finished no higher than 12th (against the run) in any of the major categories. They were 13th in points allowed (17.0), 20th in total yards (339.0 yards per game) and 23rd against the pass (251.0).
Smith, who became a full-time starter at middle linebacker last season, collected 121 tackles (82 solo), four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. Pro Football Focus named him its breakout player of the year.
“This is just the beginning,” Smith recently said, per Inside The Star. “I’m never satisfied. Everyone is dealt their own hand, it’s about how you respond. For me, the knee is great.”
Smith Talks Cowboys Career
The 24-year-old is a long way from retirement, but he’s paying forward the loyalty Dallas showed him in 2016, when they made the ex-Notre Dame stud a second-round pick despite massive red flags surrounding his balky knee and the two major ligaments (ACL, LCL) he tore while in college.
Barring a midseason extension, which seems unlikely given the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott situations, Smith will hit restricted free agency next March. But he’s already thinking — and speaking — like he’ll return in 2020 … and well beyond.
“I want to be a Cowboy. I want to be a Cowboy for the rest of my life,” Smith said Wednesday, via Machota. “Understanding what they’ve done for me, taking a chance, taking a risk. Now they’re getting the return on their investment. It’s a beautiful thing to be a Dallas Cowboy.”
Mending the Knee
Smith gave Cowboys Nation a bit of a scare following the 49ers loss, with his swelling knee bothering him. He sat out Monday’s practice but went through Tuesday and Wednesday’s sessions without incident, and termed the issue “minor.”
“Yeah, I’m great,” he said, per the Dallas Morning News’ David Moore. “Just a little time off to rest.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter @KelbermanNFL