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In Season for Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Choice on Jaylon Smith

Sean Martin



In Season For Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Decision On Jaylon Smith 1

The Dallas Cowboys are in the position they are on defense, losing consecutive games by allowing a combined 70 points to the Rams and Packers at home, for a ton of reasons. If Aaron Rodgers is still in your nightmares this morning, the horrifying image of Davante Adams stretching over Jourdan Lewis to win the game is probably at the forefront of your blame on Dallas' young defense. In a season that was going to be all about the youth Rod Marinelli has on his side of the ball though, an unexpected hindering force has been 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith.

An amazing story of perseverance and medical achievement, Jaylon Smith isn't just not helping the Cowboys at MIKE linebacker right now - he is hurting this defense with the amount of snaps he's seeing despite ineffectiveness against the run and pass.

Jaylon Smith Vs Packers - Streamable

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The reason the Cowboys lack any depth on defense is largely due to the risks they've taken in the draft to quickly fix weaknesses at all three levels here. The Jaylon Smith pick itself remains a risk that's yet to pay off, as he is unfortunately a fraction of the player he was at Notre Dame.

When Smith starred for the Fighting Irish, scouts everywhere could watch his tape and agree on the 6'2", 233-pound beast's status as a top-10 prospect. This was thanks to his constant presence defending the run from sideline to sideline, dropping well against the pass, and pressuring the quarterback from the edge.

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With a needed bye week prior to their week seven game at the 49ers, the Cowboys should be in position to make the right decision and start a healthy Sean Lee alongside Anthony Hitchens moving forward. Appearing in his first game of the season on Sunday, Hitchens saw 50 snaps while Jaylon played just 33.

If grading each and every play in which this Cowboys defense lined up against Aaron Rodgers, CB Jourdan Lewis and the likes of his teammates in the secondary, such as safeties Xavier Woods, Byron Jones, and Chidobe Awuzie; actually inspire hope that this unit could come together sooner rather than later.

When objectively watching Jaylon Smith, with the liability he's created on nearly every down by failing to play through contact and hold the point of attack, the Cowboys are seeing a player that is costing them yards - and games.

Lack of continuity at the linebacker position does nothing to support an already weak defensive line in Dallas, as the strength of this front four is being lessened by these LBs. Especially with David Irving back in the mix, the Cowboys' interior push at DT and overall ability to play the run up front should be their strength in the front seven.

In Season For Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Decision On Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

Instead, playing in a defense where gap integrity is everything, Jaylon Smith has struggled every time he's in position to finish off a play with some physicality.

Not taking on blockers in the hole and disengaging with his normally active hands, Smith has also lacked the playing strength in his upper body to handle action at the NFL level so far.

All of this of course stems from Smith's knee injury, where a partially regenerated nerve continues to hold him back.

He will still have a chance to become a dominant defensive player in this league, even if he's not the exact Jaylon who struck fear in opponents in college.

In Season For Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Choice On Jaylon Smith

It is a hard sell, but there is a lot to be excited about for the Dallas Cowboys defense.

Young players are coming together in the secondary as expected, and overall health at cornerback and safety is improving ahead of the bye week.

If the goal for Marinelli's defense is to compete this season and not hold the Cowboys' elite offense back, they'll improve greatly with Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens gaining familiarity together at WILL and MIKE linebacker, respectively. Jaylon Smith may be able to find a spot in the rotation at middle linebacker too, but it should not be until opposing offenses can't exploit him down after down.

With some in Cowboys Nation already saying that this isn't the year for America's Team, they just might be right about #54, at least.

Tell us what you think about "In Season for Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Choice on Jaylon Smith" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we're not how you think we are. Host of "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

  • Saul molina

    It sounds like jaylen Smith is getting a lot of the blame and they keep talking about a young defense Orlando scandrick isn’t a rookie and neither is Anthony brown and they are the main problem and then there is are linebackers smh the only bright spot is the defensive line

    • Sean Martin

      I think the bright spot has been the secondary actually, Scandrick has played well and Lewis is proving he has CB1 potential – which will help Brown as more of a natural second guy. Thank you for reading, Saul!

      • Saul molina

        Sorry it I disagree with scandrick playing well he has been our worst corner and brown should have progressed they try to put the excuse oh he is young so is Lewis and he has shown up

  • Saul molina

    And another thing I was kind of hard on my boy dak cuz I expect a lot from him cuz I know what he can do but he played really good

    • Sean Martin

      Dak is far from the problem here, he’s the main reason for hope that this can get fixed quickly.

      • Saul molina

        I’ll agree as of this passed game he played his ass off it was his best game he had been struggling but he came through most of the defense is our problem

  • Wayne Young

    Completely agree with this. If you just watch Jaylon Smith and nobody else on defense, you can clearly see that he is unsure of himself while out there and has been out of place numerous times. He’s had opportunities to stop the RB for limited yards or no gains and he’s missed tackles entirely. In pass coverage he’s repeatedly getting beat and usually it’s just his guy blowing right by him. He’s shown flashes of what he can and hopefully will become, but right now he needs more time to develop and needs his snaps reduced. I think next year he’ll be more impactful with all of the experience he’s gained this year alone and hopefully he can get stronger in the offseason. And everyone keeps complaining about the secondary but for a bunch of rookies they’ve actually done quite well. Just like with Jaylon, they just need time to develop. They will be better than what they had with Mo, Carr, and Wilcox. People just need to be patient.

    • Sean Martin

      Wayne, excellent thoughts here. Thank you for reading. Next year could very well be the year for Jaylon, and it is significant that they’ve already gotten him on the field this season. I also agree that the secondary will hit on their full potential.

    • Tyler Vieira

      Bunch of haters foreal expecting so much out of a player that just came back from a major injury. You people know that he is leading the team in tackles. this his first year playing with pros he wasnt even supposed to be tha starter this season. the best player on the team when hes on the field in my eyes is sean lee and he has been injured and so has hitchens. Jaylon Smith was our second round pick and this is his second year on the team give him a year or 2 and he will be one of our best players

  • Corey

    DE Taco Charlton hasn’t been the pass rusher they expected him to be either. They were talking about sitting him in favor of DE Charles Tapper, but with Tapper now hurt it looks like Charlton is it. I like this kid, and hopefully he will start to come around, but as far as this season, I’m afraid it is a lost season. Zeke is distracted by this suspension b.s. you can see it the way he has run lately. He can’t help but not be distracted you know it weighs on his mind. The problem is not only LB Jaylen Smith hurting this team there are a number of players not performing, and then there is the mess with all of this protest crap. The year is a total loss for me.

    • joe conery

      on point on Charlton.
      If Zeke wasn’t hit in the backfield so often, I’d say it’s distraction, but he’s looking at multiple defenders in the backfield these days. It’s like Demarco Murray before we got the good O line.

      • Corey

        Very true you do have a point. They need to settle the OG position

        • Sean Martin

          I believe they like Chaz Green as the backup OT, which is why we’re not seeing him risk injury and start at LG over Cooper, who is hurting this running game. Thank you guys for reading!

  • John Mcgilvery

    The kid is good. Just look at his tape from ND. He was as instinctive and ferocious as any linebacker I’ve ever seen from sideline to sideline. But having him play this much is good and bad. Good because he gets to see and feel what an NFL ass kicking feels like and learn what to do to try to prevent that from happening under tutelage from Sean Lee. Bad because he’s gonna take a lot of heat for not playing well despite just coming off of a major reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation. I say give him a break.

    The Cowboys were in one of the worst positions to be in for the last draft- 1st overall seed and get knocked out early. So with that you can’t expect plug and play rookies like Fournette. Probably not this season but next season all theses youngsters will be ready. Chido, Lewis, Taco, and Jaylen Smith.

    • Sean Martin

      John, thank you so much for reading. Your thoughts here on Jaylon Smith the football player are spot on. What makes this so tough, as I wrote in the title, is that the team is indeed committed to a lot of young guys right now and its tough not including him in the mix. He’s simply not ready but will have a chance to hit that potential very soon, we hope.

  • Bryson Treece

    I’ve seen Jaylon’s struggles, just like you, but I also see Hitchens on that injury report. Had he remained healthy, we wouldn’t have seen so much of Jaylon already, and now that Hitch is back, I expect to see him consistently have more snaps than Jaylon. Lack of depth at the position has been the primary reason we’ve seen so much of Smith, and that’s trying to get better now. Less pressure on Smith will be good, for him and the team.

  • midair

    I am tired of all the excuses. The defense is not very good and will not be very good for awhile. Can’t scheme for inferior play.

    • Sean Martin

      They’re playing a ton of young guys, need to give them a shot.

  • billy jack

    this was a waste of a pick. How do you pick a guy with the second pick who had injury like that. they could of gotten in the fourth round. cowboys act like they had pick to waste what a stupid move

    • Sean Martin

      There is more reason than ever to think that the pick will pay off, but it is hard to disagree that it is still currently not a waste. Getting him on the field was critical. We’ve seen Jaylon Smith play football now. That mythical part of this if you will is over with, now its time to evaluate his poor play and make a decision.

  • Anthony Ceniccola

    this is basically a rookie year for JS, and id bet that his knee is on his mind every time he makes a cut or move towards a play or tackle. i agree that after this experience and whatever he progresses through within this year (hopefully with no setbacks) then his talents will hopefully reemerge next season. i dont think i can give up on him or his high ceiling, just taking the realistic approach to his story and eventual full circle to recovery.

    • Sean Martin

      Very well said Anthony, I agree completely. Thank you for reading and responding!

  • joe conery

    Dak’s and Zeke’s problem has largely been the gameplan.
    When there’s 7-8 on the line eyeing Zeke, he’s not going to gain yards.
    You need to pass. We’re trying to still force the run on this situation eg on 1st downs and we’re getting behind the sticks. We need to adjust and let our pass set up our run right now.

    We finally started running Dez on my slants and posts this week and that showed dividends…You’ve got to do more than just run him up the sideline for a jump ball.

    Passing the Witten on deeper routes was better too as he just doesn’t have the run after the catch stuff anymore. Same with Beasley.

    When we’re spying a guy like Rogers, I don’t know why we didn’t put in an extra safety and use him. How many times does Rogers have to outrun out lineman and LBs before we figure out that our spy needs more speed. There was no need to worry about a running play up the middle.

  • joe conery

    Also I’ve seen way too much of Dak as strictly a dropback passer…Stop!
    We don’t need to use him like RGIII, but we need to roll him out a bit more. We need to have the threat of him. He’ll open the gaps for zeke, witten and beasley….The finally did that on the TD play.

    • E Deplorabus Unum

      Problem is how can you gameplan when the other team knows your guy can only pass when rolling out? You effectively take away half of the field and routes when he rolls out. I agree he performs better there, but what a liability as opposed to a pocket passer. Roll right and the defense just has to defend 2/3 of the field…

  • Tyler

    Another problem is jaylon smith played olb in college once we get lee back we can move Jaylon back to olb

    • Sean Martin

      He played plenty of MIKE at Notre Dame.

      • Tyler

        But with him being slow and Lee at MIKE They should put Smith at Olb where he doesn’t have to defend the pass as much and can read more plays

  • John Arcona

    You guys are missing the big picture here. Smith is missing alot of gap protection and his versatility is not what it once was. Besides that the bigger picture is our safety he’s he needs to go. He has to go back to his original spot on the team and Xavier needs to come in. On that last touchdown against Green Bay to Davante Adams there was no over the top helped by Heath whatsoever against all rookie and Rogers did exactly what Rogers is supposed to do. On the scramble Will Rogers ran for 20-something yards on third down towards the end of the game where was Heath he was again not in the picture and no where to be found on that side of the field in his coverage. We did a poor job as a team in the offseason addressing our concerns. Our cornerbacks will be fine they’re still developing but Scandrick needs to step up and Anthony brownies to show us what Anthony Brown did towards last year’s end of season. Until then we don’t fix these issues we will not go no better than 6 and 10 maybe 7 and 9.

  • golfhacker

    What is the love affair with Scandrick all about? Scandrick is mediocre, nothing more, nothing less. Heath may as well play without arms.

  • Andre Wilson

    I blame the coaching staffs for alot of the team’s struggles. The DC doesn’t bring enough pressure and the Tampa 2 doesn’t work with the roster we have and the OC doesn’t understand clock management or how to utilize Dez

  • Adam Mwakikoti

    Blaming Jaylen?!? SHIT “article”

  • EverybodyTalks

    It seems that Dallas forgot it’s plan to bring JS along slowly. Plans change when you lose Hitchens and Lee. Now that they both are returning, I think Dallas will go back to their original plan of gradually bringing Jaylon into the line-up. This is not the year of Jaylon or Taco..2018 and 2019 are more realistic. They are rookies this year. It really is that simple. If anyone needs more reps, it’s Taco. If anyone needs less reps it’s Jaylon. He isn’t 100%, but was getting 60/70 plays ~ way to many for anyone. Footnote based on some earlier comments —IMHO ~ The 2 best CBs are the rookies ~ Xavier Woods and Jourdan Lewis. Still, I think stopping the run is the main problem. We need the front seven nailing that down, like last year.

Star Blog

Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Brian Martin



Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.

I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.

Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.

Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.

Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.

Shea McClellin

New England Patriots LB Shea McClellin

After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.

Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.

This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.

If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.

With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.

He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.

Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?

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Star Blog

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys

Jess Haynie



Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys

Now that he's signed with the Washington Redskins, cornerback Orlando Scandrick joins a lackluster list of former Cowboys players and coaches who have gone from Dallas to its historic rival. The history of these moves is ugly for Washington, going back over 40 years, and can't have their fans too excited anytime they sign an ex-Cowboy.

The most recent example was just last year with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After a strong season as a 15-game starter in Dallas, McClain got a four-year, $21 million deal to join the Redskins. He missed four games with injuries and was only credited with two starts; hardly what the team wanted given the money they paid.

Before him it was Jason Hatcher, whose 11-sack season for the Cowboys in 2013 got him a four-year, $27.5 million deal from Washington. Hatcher would battle knee injuries for two season, getting only 7.5 sacks from 2014-2015. His early retirement in 2016 brought an abrupt end to a disappointing tenure.

Continuing the legacy of defensive linemen was Stephen Bowen, who Washington paid a shocking amount of money ($27.5 million over five years) to in 2011 to pick up in free agency. Bowen had a great first year for the Redskins with six sacks and 16 starts, but injuries would soon cost him 14 games from 2013-2014. He was eventually released after only one standout season in four with the team.

Going back even further, DT Brandon Noble joined Washington in 2003 after being a full-time starter for Dallas for over two seasons. He would miss all of 2003 with a knee injury, have an unimpressive year in 2004, and then missed all of 2005 with more health issues. He retired after being released by the Redskins in 2006.

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys 1

Hall of Fame CB Deion Sanders

Orlando Scandrick won't be the first cornerback to go from Dallas to Washington, or the best. At age 32, Deion Sanders was released in 2000 by the Cowboys and then got a huge seven-year, $56 million deal from the Redskins. This came less than a year after Daniel Snyder bought the franchise and was desperate to get them relevant again.

The Sanders move backfired horribly. Even after a solid season by his lofty standards, Primetime was disgruntled with both the coaching staff and his increasing struggles as an aging player. He suddenly retired after just one season of the seven-year contract.

Washington also tried to tap into the Cowboys' glory days when they signed receiver Alvin Harper in 1997. Harper had left Dallas in 1995 and spent two years with Tampa Bay, but had not carried over the same success he enjoyed playing in the Dallas offense.

The Redskins hoped that reuniting him with Norv Turner, who had been Harper's offensive coordinator and was now their head coach, would help Alvin get back to form. But between ongoing injuries and the absence of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith as teammates, Alvin Harper was never the same guy as when he won two Super Bowls in Dallas.

The failed poaching attempts go back many more decades, another one being running back Calvin Hill. The fourth-leading rusher in Cowboys history and a four-time Pro Bowler while in Dallas, Hill joined Washington in 1976. He served as a backup only, averaging only 3.8 yards-per-carry as he played behind the likes of Mike Thomas and John Riggins.

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys 2

Norv Turner also couldn't bring his Cowboys success to Washington. (Brian Bahr/Allsport)

The bad history doesn't stop with players. The aforementioned Norv Turner, who was one of the hottest assistant coaches in history after the Cowboys first two Super Bowl wins in the 90s, was hired as the Redskins' head coach in 1994.

Turner's run started with a whimper, drafting quarterback Heath Shuler third overall in that first year. Shuler would go down as one of the biggest QB busts in NFL history

Norv's Redskins never seemed to recover from that blunder. He only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance from 1994-1999, and was fired midway through the 2000 season.

Far more recently, Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan left the team in 2015 and took the same job in Washington. He didn't get to bring the offensive line or DeMarco Murray with him, though. As such, the Redskins have remained one of the league's worst rushing teams for the last three seasons. They fell to a new low of 28th in the NFL in 2017.

~ ~ ~

Of course, none of this means that Orlando Scandrick won't have success in Washington. But with the Redskins generally the most mismanaged team in the NFC East, all of the Dallas players and coaches who've gone there have not walked into good situations. For all that Cowboys fans love to complain about Jerry Jones, he handles the owner and GM roles better than any pair Washington's had in almost 30 years.

Given the nature of the rivalries, we naturally can't wish success for Scandrick or anyone else who leaves Dallas for a division opponent. With the track record we just discussed for Washington, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over.

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Star Blog

Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?

Brian Martin



Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.

Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.

The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.

Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys DB Xavier Woods

It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.

I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.

Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.

As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.

His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys DB Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.

Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.

As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.

Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.

Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?

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