Smith, the Notre Dame linebacker who suffered a horrible knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, will participate only in meetings and walk-through practices at the team’s upcoming rookie minicamp, according to multiple reports including ESPN and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The Cowboys have presented Smith’s progress this offseason as positive. The fact that Smith is allowed by rules to participate in the rookie minicamp (he’s allowed because he was rehabbing all last season) but will only do walk-through practices is concerning, but it’s understandable why they’d want to be careful and not ask him to do too much too soon.
The Cowboys are optimistic about where Smith is at.
“It seemed like he handled the work well last week, and he’s just done an amazing job right from the start with his rehab taking it day by day, making progress and we’ll continue to do that,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Sunday, according to the Star-Telegram. “If he takes that approach, that’s when he’s going to have his most success. That’s what he’s done up to this point.”
Smith was a curious pick last year. He went 34th overall, early in the second round, despite the probability of him missing all of 2016 and perhaps never fully recovering from significant nerve damage from the knee injury. This offseason, the Cowboys discussed the possibility of Smith playing with a brace for his drop foot. Then, in late April, there was news that Smith was able to lift his toes and foot. While that’s great news, it’s also a reminder of how far Smith has to go in his recovery.
If Smith can fully recover, he has fantastic talent. Had he not gotten hurt in the bowl game, he probably would have been a top-10 pick (and his injury will be pointed to for a long time, whenever players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skip their bowl games). But the injury changed the outlook. The Cowboys didn’t seem to mind the risk, even though there were plenty of other healthy players available at No. 34. But they obviously were sold on Smith being able to fully recover.
The Cowboys will have to wait a little while longer for Smith to be full-go on the practice field. If he can bounce back, it would be a big boost to a team that has Super Bowl goals.
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