When the Dallas Cowboys kick it off against the Los Angeles Rams on September 13th, Defensive End Aldon Smith will be playing on an NFL field for the first time since 2015. The 30-year-old veteran has a lot to prove on his comeback to the league, both on and off the field. So far, a lot of early training camp praise has emerged around Smith.
While it's still early, hearing a lot of positive quotes on the defensive end is reassuring for a Cowboys fanbase that is expecting big things from a defensive line that made some key acquisitions this offseason.
The thing about Aldon Smith is we know just how talented he is. Entering the league in 2011, Smith got off to a remarkable start. He sacked the quarterback a total of 42 times over his first three seasons in the league along with 74 QB hits. In that span, Smith forced six fumbles and racked up 42 tackles for loss. Not to mention, he missed five games in 2013.
If those numbers mean nothing to you, allow me to point out that 42 sacks in a player's first three years in the NFL rank third in league history behind Reggie White and Derrick Thomas. Between 2011 and 2013, Aldon Smith was second in total sacks behind Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen and fourth in QB hits behind JJ Watt, Cameron Wake, and Allen. That's elite company for a young player right there.
The point is Smith wasn't just a “promising” young player with high expectations. He was one of the top defensive players in the league. He wasn't the future, but the present. Unfortunately, off-the-field issues began to arise for Smith as he missed a season's worth of games between 2014 and 2015 before disappearing for the next five years.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy sounded excited when he talked about Smith and said “I would say that if you walked away from practice you would say ‘Hey, who the hell is No. 58?'” He praised his power and his length, “he's impressive.”
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is also impressed with Smith's work, even if he doesn't enjoy facing him in practice. In his eyes, Aldon Smith isn't a guy who's been out of the picture since 2015. “Damn sure doesn't look like he hasn't played in five years,” Prescott told reporters earlier this week.
It's hard to buy into offseason hype, but it's also hard not to believe it when discussing a player as talented as Aldon Smith. When he returns to the playing field on Sundays, he doesn't even have to be his former self in order to be a dominant starter. If he plays at 70% of his 2011-2013 self, the Cowboys will have a strong player at the defensive end position.
“The way Mike has it drawn up, I'm going to be in situations where I can use my skillset and be able to make plays. I'm just looking forward to being able to put it all on film against people,” said Smith to reporters on Thursday.
In approximately 20 days, Aldon Smith will be able to put it on film against the Los Angeles Rams.