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Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith focused on accentuating strengths in 2021

The Dallas Cowboys rebuilt their linebacking corps over the offseason, but holdover Jaylon Smith is aiming to still be a big part of the present at the position.

OXNARD, Calif. — Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith has been asked to take part in a bevy of assignments in his five seasons with the club.

The former 2016 second-rounder from Notre Dame has been the lead communicator of the defense, dropped back into coverage, rushed the passer, and stopped the run.

According to Smith, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has given him a different type of responsibility: focus on the strengths.

"The biggest thing with DQ coming in is just letting us know that he was going to allow everybody to use their strengths and put everybody in their position to display their strength," Smith said. "And guys like myself and Micah [Parsons] have the ability to pass rush, the ability to blitz and get after the guys, the ability to run sideline to sideline. It's just something that I'm looking forward to."

Smith has been proficient at pass rushing over his career with 9.0 sacks, 15 quarterback hits, and 20 tackles for loss. In 2018, Smith's lone Pro Bowl season, he provided 4.0 sacks and six quarterback hits while playing linebacker in the Cowboys' version of the Tampa 2 under Rod Marinelli, a scheme that doesn't typically send blitzers.

A former defensive end at Bishop Luers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in high school, Smith has been working with assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and even watching tape of former Cowboys pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, another Fort Wayne Bishop Luers alumnus.

2021 is like any other year for Smith in that he believes he always has something to prove. However, criticism of his play, especially since he signed his five-year, $64 million contract in 2019, has only grown. The critical chatter on social media and in the conventional media don't bother the 26-year-old.

Said Smith: "I mean, I don't care who you are. You're going to have criticism. Michael Jordan had criticism. LeBron James, one of the best players in the world, had criticism. It's just a part of the game. But you got to control what you can control, and for me, it's just focus on my development and becoming a better player."

All Smith can hear are cheers and adulation from the scores of Cowboys fans who have descended on River Ridge Playing Fields to see their team's training camp for the first time since 2019.

"We got the best fans in the world, and we need them," said Smith. "We need them to be victorious. It really just feels good to have the fans back out here supporting us and watching us grind."

Do you think that Jaylon Smith can return to his Pro Bowl form for the Cowboys in 2021? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.