IRVING, Texas – He hasn't taken a single rep, and he isn't going to for the foreseeable future. But Jaylon Smith stands off to the side as a tantalizing reminder of what the future could hold.
While the rest of the Cowboys wrap up minicamp on Thursday, their second-round pick from last month will likely continue his usual routine. He'll do light rehab work with the team's athletic trainers, and he'll be on hand to see the bulk of practice.
It's a slow process. But for a guy who suffered a career-threatening injury on New Year's Day, Smith said he's happy with the progress he's made.
"Great improvements. I think strength – a lot of those things. We have a great training staff here," he said. "For me it's just putting all my trust into our team physicians, and everything is going to be alright."
It's been five months since Smith tore his ACL and his LCL during Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. Those injuries are intense enough. But as has been documented during Smith's journey to the NFL, he's also battling damage to his peroneal nerve – an injury which limits his ability to move his left foot.
Smith last underwent testing on the nerve during the NFL Combine's medical re-checks, held in Indianapolis before the draft. He'll undergo more tests in the future, but that timeline hasn't been established as of yet.
"We test according – give it some time and then we'll test," he said. "I'm not sure when the next test will be, but for me I just have all of my trust in them."
In the meantime, the Cowboys have acclimated their bluechip linebacker into their locker room. Smith was in attendance for the entirety of OTAs and minicamp, and he's been part of team and position meetings throughout the past month.
"The guy is attentive at meetings, attentive at walkthroughs. He is locked in," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "He is learning things. He is someone who really understands the game. It is important to him to understand the details of the game. He is working at that."
Smith also has the advantage of working alongside one of the game's top linebackers in Sean Lee, who's renowned for his football IQ and passion for the game. The rookie said he's trying to soak up as much information as he can from his veteran teammate – though Lee was quite complimentary when asked about that.
"He's extremely bright – he doesn't need to soak much up. He already knows a ton," Lee said. "You watch the way he played in college – the type of passion he played with, the type of intelligence, the type of athleticism. As soon as he gets healthy, he's going to be an unbelievable player. Being able to work with him is going to be a lot of fun."
When Smith gets healthy isn't a conversation the Cowboys are willing to have just yet – there's simply far too much to do. Smith said the process is testing his patience, but his plan is just to control what he can during this long road back to the playing field.
"For me, whenever I'm healthy, I'll be back out there," he said. "When that'll happen, we'll see."