Arlington -- Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith shows promise in his Cowboys debut, taking a quantum leap in his inspirational comeback story.
596 days after he last played a football game, Smith started in the Cowboys third preseason game against the Colts Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
Smith says once the game started, he tried to down play the emotion of his return and focus on football.
"Do my job. Have a sense of urgency of getting lined up; going over my keys, and playing football," was his thought process he said from the first play on.
The last time Smith played in a football game was New Year's Day 2016 when he suffered a devastating knee injury. He tore the ACL in his left knee and incurred nerve damage during the Fiesta Bowl, his final game with Notre Dame.
“It was great to see him out there," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. "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."
He took part in 12 plays and officially logged one tackle when he brought down Colts tight end Jack Doyle, forcing Indianapolis to punt.
“It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be out here. It’s a blessing to be playing for America’s Team," said Smith. "I’m so honored just to play the game I love."
The Cowboys took him in the second round of the draft last year, and he spent the entire season rehabbing his injured leg.
Smith's intangibles are off the chart. He's as positive a player as you'll ever meet and his work ethic has served as the backbone for his remarkable comeback from an injury many thought would end his career.
Naysayers doubted the nerves in his leg could ever regenerate. Smith wears a Richie brace on his left ankle and foot to help with the drop foot condition that was a result of the injury.
Just before the start of training camp, tests revealed further progress in the regeneration of Smith's nerve in the leg, fueling optimism that this return to the field was possible.
"From day one, I’ve believed in myself, and I thank all the supporters everywhere, even everyone who doubted me," said Smith. "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.”
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones is thrilled with Smith's progress, and before the game said the plan was to be cautious in his return.
"He'll definitely be on a pitch count," said Jones. "Like I've said, he's going to be here for 10-plus years so he doesn't need to go win a defensive player of the year the first night out in a preseason game."
No awards on this night, but a ton of satisfaction.