FRISCO, Texas – It won't be seen by the public, but Tuesday marks the arrival of something the Cowboys have been working toward for quite some time.
Yes, Organized Team Activities begin Tuesday at The Star, and the coming weeks will offer the Cowboys their first true look at the 2017 roster. That's an exciting prospect across the board.
But specifically, OTAs mark an opportunity for Jaylon Smith to take the field for the first time in his NFL career – more than a year after he was drafted. To say that's been an anticipated event would be a massive understatement.
"As would have it, I was talking with Dr. Cooper today, and we're certainly very pleased with his progress and have every reason to believe he'll have a good camp here – OTA camp," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones last week.
A quick refresher, for those that need it: Smith suffered a horrific injury in his final college game, a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1, 2016. The Notre Dame linebacker tore both his ACL and his LCL, and he suffered damage to the peroneal nerve in his left leg.
Dr. Dan Cooper, who is the Cowboys' team physician, performed Smith's surgery back before the 2016 NFL Draft, and his familiarity with the situation contributed to the team's decision to draft the All-American with the No. 34 overall pick.
Smith was unavailable for his entire rookie season while he recovered from the injury -- specifically the nerve damage, which has limited his ability to move his left foot. But in the time since the 2016 season ended, Smith has steadily increased his workload, with the Cowboys' often-repeated goal that he'd be ready to participate in OTAs.
"It's going to be a process," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "I know everybody is going to want to analyze each practice, each practice he misses, each exercise he does out there – I've got a little of that in me too, looking at a guy like that and what he can do for us. But at the end of the day we've just got to see how he progresses and not overdo it with him."
To that end, Smith will undoubtedly be working on a specified timetable during the next few weeks. The Cowboys want him to be as fresh as possible, and they don't want him to overwork himself. Because of that, it's a good bet that Smith have a set schedule of practice days and off days.
"What we want to do is – the term is 'fresh,'" Jerry Jones said. "We want him to do his things, probably on alternative days, so that at all times when he's moving, he's moving around fresh."
Regardless of how much work he's doing, having Smith in the huddle for a Cowboys practice would be a step in the right direction. Smith and Jerry Jones – both noted for their remarkable optimism – have long expressed confidence about the future. Jones has repeated numerous times that he thought Smith might have been able to play in the playoffs last season, if not for the NFL rules keeping him on injured reserve.
For everyone else, though, seeing is believing. And from the sounds of it, Smith just might offer the outside world a glimpse of what the Cowboys have been seeing for the past few months.
"I know everybody is curious as to how this is going to work," Stephen Jones said. "I just think we feel very optimistic about him, very optimistic that he's going to be playing football for the Cowboys this year and making a difference."