If you're like me, one of the first things you did when the Dallas Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith was drop your jaw. I mean, how could the Cowboys take someone at 34th overall who very likely won't play a snap this season, and may never take another one again? Once I turned on the tape of him at Notre Dame, that answer became a lot less murky.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jaylon Smith is an absolute star at linebacker. Throughout his college career, he has showed instincts, anticipation, patience, toughness, and knowledge. His tackling mechanics are excellent and he has a great feel for the play. Once he makes his mind up about where the ball is going, his pursuit and athleticism is second to none in this draft class.
Having said all that, one of the more intriguing stat lines that I saw for him, which I'm sure many of you are already aware of, is his lack of interceptions in college. I found it a little troublesome that someone who would've likely been picked in the top 10 didn't tally a single interception, and only three forced fumbles, over a three year span at Notre Dame. How is this possible?
In order to answer this question, I went back and watched his tape from college. I wanted to get a better understanding of his lack of production.
Was it the scheme he played in where he was never put in a good position to make plays? Was it a lack of instincts where he just wasn't putting himself in the right places at the right times? Was it just simply a lack of catching ability where he was in the correct place at the right time, but just couldn't haul the pass in?
In all five of his games from 2015 that I watched, he only had his hands on one semi-catchable ball, and damn near came up with the turnover. In order for him to have landed the catch, he would've had to keep the ball off the ground on a diving attempt, which is obviously much easier said than done. See the play below:
Jaylon has an uncanny ability in the open field. Whether he's tackling, or reading the eyes of the quarterback, he always seems to make great plays. I'd argue another factor that contributed to his lack of turnover production was the fact that he can essentially blanket all threats that he saw in coverage. Quarterbacks rarely threw in his direction and when they did, opposing teams tended to scheme against him.
The clip below is a great example of his coverage ability. You can see that the tight end is supposed to draw Jaylon's coverage up field to allow the receiver to cross his face on the drag and pick up yards. Jaylon's instincts allow him to see the play developing and only allow a small gain. Because of abilities like this, teams tended to throw away from the talented linebacker.
When watching his tape, it's easy to see why Jaylon is such a high prospect. His versatility cannot be understated. He will line up as a defensive back on some downs to play man-to-man coverage, and then on the next play he can line up on the edge as a defensive end. I believe this is the main reason he wasn't able to record an interception.
I'd argue that he was used to bring pressure on almost the same amount of snaps that he dropped back in coverage. Whether he played a linebacker role and blitzed up the middle/on the edge, or put his hand in the dirt, his pass rush skills were called on early and often.
So, Why Not More Interceptions?
I honestly believe that had Jaylon Smith played more of a concrete inside linebacker role at Notre Dame, he would've had much higher interception totals. As I said from the previous section, his defensive coordinator recognized quickly how versatile a player he was, and moved him all over the field, which didn't do him any favors in terms of turnover numbers.
His Role Moving Forward
With Rolando McClain's contract expiring at the end of this season, I see Jaylon lining up as the all-important MIKE linebacker in our base 4-3 front. This is a guy who can fly to the ball and is big enough to take on blockers, allowing Sean Lee to navigate space and make tackles. Smith has a great feel for open space and can read a quarterback's eyes as good as anyone in this draft class.
So, to those who are weary of Jaylon's potential at MIKE linebacker, I'm telling you now that I don't think it should be a concern. His fit in our defense is going to allow him to play comfortably in space, and use his natural instincts to make plays.
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
Cowboys LB Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week Against Eagles
You already knew that Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker, had a great night last Sunday in Philadelphia. Apparently the rest of the football world agreed, and now he's been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The award is the first of what could be many for Leighton, who has emerged as a defensive leader for the Cowboys. He's been playing more in the absence of veteran Sean Lee, who has been battling hamstring issues all season.
THE. WOLF. HUNTER. Congratulations to #DallasCowboys rookie LB @VanderEsch38 on being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week! → https://t.co/XeSTt2tIpX
This is the second Player of the Week award for a Dallas Cowboys this season. Kicker Brett Maher won the Special Teams version in Week 4 after going 4-for-4 and hitting a game winner over the Detroit Lions.
The Defensive Player award hasn't gone to a Cowboys since Week of 2017, when DeMarcus Lawrence put up three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals.
Leighton's recognition is also well-earned. He led Dallas with 13 tackles and an interception in a pivotal road victory against a division rival. In what was arguably a "must-win" game for the Cowboys, their first-round pick stepped up and stood out.
A few more games like this, and Vander Esch could be in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. But even above personal accolades, Leighton's play could help the Cowboys make a push in the NFC East.
If nothing else, he's making that first-round pick look smarter every week.
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Things have not gone well for Dak Prescott this season. His play has been up and down and he hasn't given the team or Cowboys Nation much reason to believe that he's the future at the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking to 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas today, Legendary Dallas Cowboys Quarterback, Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Roger Staubach offered support for the Cowboys current quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Staubach had this to say when asked about Dak Prescott.
Roger Staubach on @1053thefan said #Dak is a part of the problem with the #Cowboys offense, but he is not the problem.
Roger Staubach didn't start in the NFL until the third year of his career and thinks that's a good time for the quarterback to make the jump. At this point, we are 40 games into Dak Prescott's NFL career and we can see some of the things that he's good at as well as some of the things that he struggles with.
As Staubach points out, Dak Prescott has the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback, even if his play hasn't been what you'd want at the position. Roger admits that Dak shoulders some of the blame for the offensive woes of the last 16 games, but realizes that there are many reasons for the Cowboys offensive failures this season.
Roger Staubach believes that the Dallas Cowboys can win with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback despite some of the flaws that have crept up over the last 16 games. He's not wrong.
Staubach's pretty accurate in his assessment that there's been more good than bad. If you look at the first 24 games of Dak Prescott's career, he was really good. Through the last 16 games, he's struggled at times. So technically there's been more good than bad. The problem is that over the last 16 games, there's been more bad than good. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and lately Dak hasn't done much. We can debate all day on how much of the struggles Prescott's faced are on him, but everyone should be willing to admit that some of the struggles are on him.
It's plausible that the confidence in Prescott that Jerry Jones has comes from Roger's belief that the Cowboys can win games with Dak Prescott at quarterback; and they have. In Prescott's career, the Dallas Cowboys are 25-15. Though wins are a team stat and not a quarterback stat, it just goes as evidence that Dak Prescott can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League.
Dak has some flaws, but the offense and its play caller haven't helped Prescott much this season. We should be critical of Prescott because he has a big pay day coming, if you believe Jerry Jones. While Dak has some flaws, he also has some traits that can make him a good quarterback in the NFL with the right coaching situation behind him. 2018 may be running out of time for the Dallas Cowboys and their playoff prospects, but the Cowboys have time before they have to make a decision on Prescott.
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