Brett Maher Jersey

Kevin Sherrington, sports columnist for SportsDayDFW.com and The Dallas Morning News, answered your questions about the Cowboys in a live chat recently. Check out the highlights:
If you look at his numbers, he was 10th in the league in points, which is pretty good for a kicker playing for a team that doesn’t score much. Of the nine kickers in front of him on PATs, six had more attempts, and three or four had almost twice as many attempts. Give him that many PATs, and he’s in the top five in the league. His problems were between the 30 and 50, where he was only 13 of 19. On short and long attempts, he was almost automatic. No question he has to be more consistent in mid-range attempts, but that’s a pretty good asset, a guy who can kick a 60-yarder. If he can do that and make short ones, it stands to reason he can improve in mid-range.He wants too much money? Can’t imagine it won’t happen. Might not happen before they have to tag him on March 5, but it’ll get done at some point. The Cowboys can afford to slow play it a little because he’s going to have shoulder surgery for a torn labrum at some point. But they can’t wait too long because he’s said he won’t do anything until a contract gets done. Lots of posturing here. No reason for it. He’s the most valuable player on the defense. Great all-around defensive end. Good pass rusher and good run defender. Plays hard, plays hurt, team leader. No-brainer to get this done.Funny thing is, because of tag, he’s already the second-highest paid DE among 4-3 types. Only Ezekiel Ansah makes more. Olivier Vernon got five years, $85 million from the Giants. I figure Lawrence will get somewhere between that and five years, $100MFind it hard to believe, though he’s still young. Even if another team picks him up this season, he probably will have to miss more games because he reportedly missed drug tests. It’s just always something with Irving. Which is a shame, because he’s a huge talent.

Kristi Scales, sideline reporter for the Dallas Cowboys radio network, answered questions and shared interesting notes about the team during a recent live chat. Here are some highlights:Brett Maher was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday thanks mostly to his 59-yard field goal in Sunday’s win over the Bucs. It’s Maher second time to win the award this season which makes him the first Cowboys kicker in 15 seasons to earn the honor twice in the same season (Billy Cundiff, 2003). He is the second Cowboys’ special teamer to win the award twice in a season since 2013 (Dwayne Harris).Maher’s two awards in 2018 bring the Cowboys’ grand total of NFC Player of the Week honors to five. Do you remember the other three awards? Here’s a hint: two of the three belong to the same star player on offense.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper won NFC Offensive Player of the Week twice: in the Week 12 win over the Redskins with 180 yards and 2 TDs; and the Week 14 home win over the Eagles (3 TDs, 217 receiving yards).

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch won NFC Defensive Player of the Week thanks to his 19 tackles and first career interception in the win over the Eagles at Philly on November 11.

Those are your five NFC Player of the Week honors for the Cowboys: Brett Maher (2), Amari Cooper (2), and Leighton Vander Esch (1).
La’el Collins is on the books in 2019 with a $7.4 million hit against the cap, then he’ll hit free agency in 2020. Is he someone I would like to sign to an extension before he hits the market, yes. And one reason is that he’s shown he can play multiple positions along the line; he’s been a season-long starter at both guard and tackle. Of course, he would be in line for tackle money, not guard money. Tackles are more expensive than guards, of course.

The Cowboys positional spending at offensive line ($37 million in 2018) is more than any other NFL team. The Jones family will pay premium prices for the guys who open the holes for Zeke and who protect Dak.

If we can, I’d like to take a brief amount of time out of your lives today to talk about No. 2. No, I’m not talking about what goes on in the privacy of the bathroom. I’m talking about the current player on the Dallas Cowboys roster who wears the No. 2 jersey, Kicker Brett Maher.

Brett Maher surprisingly took over the placekicker job last season after outperforming fan favorite Dan Bailey. Bailey was near automatic during his time with the Dallas Cowboys, but unfortunately never returned to his old self after sustaining a groin injury in 2017. He even struggled with the Minnesota Vikings last year, making the Cowboys look pretty smart going with the unknown leg of Maher.

As good as the decision looks now to move on from Dan Bailey, Brett Maher had his ups and downs in 2018 as well. He made 80.6% (29 of 36) of his field goals with the long of 62 and made all but one of his 33 extra point attempts. His big leg came in handy on a number of occasions, but his midrange accuracy left much to be desired.

As things stand right now, Brett Maher is the only player on the entire Dallas Cowboys roster who doesn’t have any competition, making him the unquestioned placekicker heading into the 2019 season. I’m not completely against him resuming his current role this year, but for the Cowboys not to look for an upgrade is uncharacteristically like them.

We all know the Dallas Cowboys pride themselves on creating as much competition throughout the roster as possible. For me, this includes the specialty positions such as kicker, punter, and even long snapper despite how consistently impressive L. P. Ladouceur has been in his 15+ seasons with the Cowboys.

I know a lot of Cowboys Nation would like to see Matt Bryant in a Cowboys uniform this season, but his asking price and age (44) likely causes Dallas to look elsewhere. I wouldn’t rule it out completely considering he made 95.2% of his FGs last season with the Atlanta Falcons and the fact he’s a Texas native, but I also wouldn’t hold my breath on it happening.

The more likely scenario is the Cowboys bring in some younger kickers as a camp leg to see if one of them can unseat Maher. It would probably take some doing considering what a weapon he can be from long distances, but consistency is something that should definitely be factored in as well. Unfortunately, we all know just how important the impact of a missed or made FG can have on the outcome of a ballgame.

With the Dallas Cowboys in “win now” mode, they can’t afford not to look for an upgrade over Brett Maher. So, don’t be surprised if you see another kicker or two added to the roster sometime between now and training camp. Who knows, maybe they can find another diamond in the rough like they did with Dan Bailey when he joined the team as an undrafted free agent.

You might think that kicker is one position the Dallas Cowboys aren’t worried about for 2019. However, despite winning two Player of the Week awards and setting a new Dallas record for longest field goal, Brett Maher’s performance in 2018 left plenty of room for improvement.

When Maher was good last season, he was really good. After surprisingly replacing Dan Bailey as the team’s kicker following the preseason, Brett missed his first kick of the year but then made the next 15. He went 4-for-4 in Dallas’ win over the Detroit Lions, earning the first of his two awards.

In December against Philadelphia, Maher hit a 62-yarder to set the new Cowboys record for distance. Two weeks later he hit a 59-yarder against Tampa Bay.

But along the way, Brett also went just 6-of-8 in field goals ranging from 30-39 yards. He was only 7-of-11 in the 40s. He finished the year with a total accuracy of just 80.6%, ranked just 25th among NFL kickers.

While there’s no denying the intrigue of Maher’s big leg, he clearly was a liability from closer range. The Cowboys have to decide if his overall game makes him a bigger threat to the opposition or to themselves.

The Cowboys might be willing to hope for improvement in the short and mid-range kicking with Maher now being the full-time starter. Last offseason, he was just here to give Dan Bailey some occasional rest. But now he’s the man, and the increased work with Chris Jones and L.P. Ladouceur could make a difference.

But even though Maher is just breaking out in the NFL, he’s still 29 years old. He’s been in offseason program with the Jets and Browns before, and even the Cowboys back in 2013. He’s also kicked in the CFL.

Brett may just be what he is at this point, and the Cowboys can’t be too flippant about the kicker position as they eye a return to the playoffs next year. A single kick can make all the difference in a game, and one game can mean everything in the NFL.

Dallas might be able to do better with some of the impending free agents this offseason. If they don’t get re-signed before March, veterans like Matt Bryant, Robbie Gould, Jason Myers, and Josh Lambo are all set to be on the open market. They all hit 90% or better on their field goals last season.

To get any of them, the Cowboys would have to pay a lot more than the $570k that Maher is due in 2019. They would likely be paying at least $4 million, which is about what Dan Bailey was making his last few years here.

But if your entire season can come down to one kick, how much do you really trust Brett Maher to make it?

That’s the big question for the Cowboys, and they need to decide before the top kickers in the game all get jobs elsewhere. Maher had big moments last season, but does his overall game really make him trustworthy going forward?

Ibraheim Campbell Jersey

Green Bay Packers safety Josh Jones shocked Packers nation yesterday when news broke he wants out of Green Bay. The 2017 second-rounder has seen more failures than successes during his first two years and it has landed him as a rotational defensive back.

Jones’ play has given him very little leverage to demand anything but GM Brian Gutekunst will likely honor the players’ request even if compensation turns out to be a day three pick. If the Green Bay Packers find a suitor for Jones, they have brought in a ton of safeties to fight for his job, however, it may not be a bad idea to call last year’s midseason signing Ibraheim Campbell, who is currently still a free agent.

Campbell only saw action in three games in 2018 before an undisclosed injury landed him on injured reserve after their week 13 loss at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. For a player signed off the street, Campbell had a significant impact recording 18 tackles in limited snaps. Injuries to the team’s secondary allowed him to start against the Cardinals as he went on to record eight tackles and force a fumble in that game.

This offseason the Packers have completely reshaped their safeties since last year, bringing in Adrian Amos and drafting Darnell Savage in the first round. Last week, they used a flier on Mike Tyson, who like Campbell, has bounced around the league quite a bit in a short amount of time. This does not include last year’s safeties Raven Greene and Natrell Jamerson who are also trying to make the final 53 this summer.

Campbell quickly jumped Greene on the depth chart in 2018 and it may not be that hard to do it again. Greene is still very raw and doesn’t possess the same level of versatility as Campbell. As an undrafted free agent, Jamerson was lucky enough to see snaps on special teams a season ago and is a converted corner.

Tyson may be the first one to take Jones’ reps given his experience but it may pique Green Bay’s interest to reach out to Campbell before training camp. If his inability to pass a physical is what is keeping him unsigned, he could be on a roster at any point in the coming months.

With the Jets secondary getting thinner by the day, it’s no surprise that the team is perusing available options.

Rollins, a second-round pick of the Packers’ in 2015, was released by Green Bay with an injury settlement after suffering a hamstring injury during the preseason. He can play cornerback and safety, which would give the Jets some much-needed versatility given the current fragile state of the secondary.

Campbell, meanwhile, was a fourth-round pick of the Browns’ in 2015 and has also spent time with Houston and Dallas. A safety, he played four games for the Cowboys this season, primarily on special teams, before being released recently.

The Jets secondary is currently in shambles, so they are doing their due diligence; expect other names to come through Florham Park this week.

Good morning and welcome to the Titletown Report. The Green Bay Packers have had two tough road losses since returning from their bye week, but they now return home to take on the Miami Dolphins.

In today’s Titletown Report: Dairyland Express’ article on three players in the spotlight this week against the Miami Dolphins, predictions for every Week 10 game, and Paul Bretl’s article on Ibraheim Campbell’s role in Mike Pettine’s defense.

So let’s get started. Here’s a roundup of the latest articles from around the internet.

Lombardi Ave’s Paul Bretl looks at the safety position. Without Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jermaine Whitehead, new signing Ibraheim Campbell could be set for an important role on defense in the near future.

After cutting their roster down to 53 players yesterday, the Cowboys announced on Sunday they picked up safety Ibraheim Campbell and center Adam Redmond off waivers.

With the acquisition, the Cowboys waived guard Kadeem Edwards and defensive tackle Brian Price to bring the roster back down to 53 players.

Center became a position of need for the Cowboys with starter Travis Frederick dealing with an autoimmune disease diagnosis. Redmond appeared in four games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017.
Campbell started 11 games in three seasons with the Cleveland Browns and had 61 total tackles and a pass deflection.

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns have a pair of openings in their defensive backfield, and second-year safety Ibraheim Campbell is anxious to fill one of them.

Thus far, through the first 10 days of training camp, Campbell has worked his way in with the first-team defense alongside fellow safety Jordan Poyer in an effort to replace Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner, who held down starting spots next to each other for the last two years.

“Absolutely, it was a tremendous opportunity to come in and be running with the ones this year,” Campbell said. “I made sure that I kind of did everything that I could in preparation for that opportunity. I’ve just been working every day to make sure that I took full advantage of it and was ready to go.”

According to Campbell, the experience he has gained by running with the first-team defense has been “extremely important” to his development.

“No matter how much film you watch on those types of things, there’s no substitute for experiences, so I’m cherishing every opportunity that I have on the field, every rep that I get in practice,” Campbell said. “Whether it be individual drills, whether it be team drills, seven-on-seven, I’m always trying to make sure that I’m making the most of those reps to be productive on the field.”

Additionally, the first-team work has given Campbell an opportunity to build a rapport with Poyer.

“It’s very important, the relationship between the safeties and the corners and the linebackers,” Campbell said. “Any team, you need to kind of know what to be able to expect from your teammates.

“That’s something we really harp on. We’ve been really focusing on building each other up as a team and on and off the field, and I think it’s really starting to show. It also makes the on-the-field experiences that are much better when you’re doing things, gelling well, all those types of things. It creates a great environment for the team.”

The 115th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Campbell was a co-captain at Northwestern and second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection by league coaches during his senior season.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound native of Philadelphia registered 39 solo tackles, 15 assists, 54 total stops, and one tackle for lost yardage, forced four fumbles, recovered another, defended three passes and intercepted three throws, which he returned for 79 yards in only eight games in 2014.

During his four-year career at Northwestern, Campbell registered 192 solo tackles, 124 assists and 316 total stops, 7.5 tackles for lost yardage, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 24 passes defended and 11 interceptions.

And he hopes to put his versatility on display for the Browns this season, so long as it will better the team.

“I see myself as someone who can play down in the box, really create turnovers in the box, whether that be forcing fumbles, whatever,” Campbell said. “Also, I play high, but at the free safety position, being able to break on balls and catch interceptions as well. I think my versatility is probably one of my biggest strengths.”

Randy Gregory Jersey

Timber. That was the sound of some tall trees falling in a hurry in the NFL draft as several top draft prospects plummeted due to character questions.

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory fell out of the first round altogether after testing positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine and facing other lingering questions about his personality.

LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins may go undrafted completely as police want to interview him in connection with a murder investigation of a pregnant woman who was his former girlfriend. Although Louisiana police say he’s not a suspect in the crime, the specter of having an employee embroiled in a legal situation caused NFL…

DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) – Fresh off the news of his indefinite suspension from football for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Randy Gregory has been hit with more bad news.

Gregory is now facing eviction from his Frisco home after allegedly failing to pay nearly $15,000 in rent and utilities, according to TMZ.

Gregory rented the 3,500 square-foot 3-bedroom home in Frisco in August 2018. Reports say a letter was sent to the Cowboys player and his attorney on Feb. 5, after he fell behind in payments.

The total amount owed comes to $13,674, but TMZ says that number has now inflated to nearly $15,000.

Gregory played in just two games in 2016 for the Cowboys due to suspensions. He missed all of 2017 after a year-long ban.

Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday that defensive end Randy Gregory is still waiting to hear from the NFL regarding his appeal for reinstatement.

“You know, I know it’s proceeding,” Jones said, per the Star-Telegram’s Clarence E. Hill Jr.

“We don’t have anything to report differently, other than that I know he’s wanting to move forward with the appeal. I don’t really have anything new to report on that front, other than that. I know he’s done the application process, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t had the actual appeal. It’s in the league’s hands.”

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported May 16 that Gregory planned to submit his formal application for reinstatement after he was suspended for the entire 2017 season following a third violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Before that, the 2015 second-round pick served four- and 10-game suspensions for his first and second violations, respectively.

According to Rapoport, Gregory filed his application after spending “more than 6 weeks in intensive drug and alcohol rehab in addition to counseling.”

The NFL has 60 days to approve Gregory’s paperwork for reinstatement retroactive to the date it was received.

Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory missed part of the 2016 season, all of the 2017 season and was finally reinstated last year due to suspensions. Now, it’s being reported that the former Nebraska star has been suspended once more.

This time it’s an indefinite suspension (his fourth suspension total) for violating the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the terms of his conditional reinstatement, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Coming out of Nebraska, Gregory certainly had a red flag for this very issue. He had a failed drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine and has tested positive for marijuana multiple times throughout his career.

Last year after being conditionally reinstated, Gregory tallied 25 tackles and six sacks for the Dallas Cowboys, who have stuck with him to this point through thick and thin. It remains to be seen if Jerry Jones will continue to stand behind Gregory after this latest setback.

OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys activated defensive end Randy Gregory off the nonfootball injury list after a year away from football on a substance-abuse suspension.

The former Husker picked in the second round of the 2015 draft has played in two of the past 32 regular-season games because of multiple suspensions. Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated him not long before the Cowboys reported to training camp.

Gregory participated in a walkthrough practice for the first time Wednesday. He wasn’t expected to participate in the padded practice in the afternoon. Coach Jason Garrett said Dallas is “still going to be very deliberate with him.”

The 25-year-old was banned for the first four games of 2016 before a 10-game suspension was announced while he served the first penalty. Gregory was suspended indefinitely after getting his first career sack in the final game of the 2016 regular season.

PHILADELPHIA — Carson Wentz is trusting the process.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback didn’t participate in 11-on-11 drills for the third straight practice for precautionary reasons after taking part the first three days.

“Just have to listen to what the doctors and coaches are saying. Just trust that plan,” Wentz said Wednesday.

Coach Doug Pederson emphasized that Wentz hasn’t had any setbacks. He said he’s encouraged by Wentz’s recovery from surgery to repair a torn left ACL last December. Wentz again was on the field for the 7-on-7 portion of practice.

Wentz said he feels great physically and understands that the medical staff wants to keep him in a controlled environment. He still hasn’t been cleared for contact. His goal is to be ready for Week 1 when the defending Super Bowl champs host the Falcons on Sept. 6.

LOS ANGELES — The former linebacker known as “Lights Out” will try to punch out an opponent’s lights in a bare-knuckle boxing match.

Shawne Merriman agreed to compete with the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation on a pay-per-view event in Casper, Wyoming, this fall, the promoters announced Wednesday.

The 34-year-old Merriman was a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his eight-year NFL career with the Chargers and the Bills.

Merriman retired from the NFL in 2013, and he flirted with the idea of becoming a professional wrestler the next year. He has trained in mixed martial arts during his retirement, even considering a professional bout in Japan.
His once-promising career got derailed by a series of injuries that kept him out of 11 of the Colts’ last 20 games. He finished each of the last two seasons on injured reserve.

Randy Gregory’s week ain’t gettin’ any better … ’cause the Cowboys star is now facing eviction after allegedly failing to pay almost $15,000 in rent and utilities.

26-year-old Gregory had been living in a nice 3-bedroom home in Frisco, Texas since August 2018 — but according to a letter sent to the NFL player and his attorney on Feb. 5, he fell behind in payments to the tune of $13,674.

Sources involved in the situation tell us that number has now inflated to nearly $15,000.

The letter, obtained by TMZ Sports, demands Gregory either pay the money he owes or “vacate the premises within one day.”

According to our sources, Gregory has still not forked over the cash … and he’s still living in the home.

The home is pretty nice — 3,500 square feet, 3.5 bathrooms, with a bar, game room and a nice outdoor BBQ area. It’s also located about 1 mile from the Cowboys practice facility.

We’re told Randy had signed a 1-year rental agreement in August — but stopped paying the $4,500/month rent back in December.

Gregory’s made some money … he signed a 4-year, $3.8 million deal after being drafted by the Cowboys with the 60th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

But, his time in the NFL has been plagued with drama and failed drug tests (reportedly 7 or more) — with the most recent coming to light this week — prompting the league to indefinitely suspend the talented defensive end.

TMZ Sports reached out to Gregory’s rep — Daniel Moskowitz — who declined comment.

Byron Jones Jersey

Byron Jones has a lot of things on his plate as the No. 1 cornerback of the Dallas Cowboys. His mission is to prove that 2018 was no fluke, that he truly is one of the game’s best cornerbacks and an elite player worthy of continuous Pro Bowl and All-Pro accolades. Standing in his way is a hip injury suffered sometime during the 2018 season that required offseason surgery.

When the injury and under-the-knife plans were revealed earlier in the year, there was a projected timeline that would have Jones miss most of the offseason work and still be held out into training camp. Jones, however, on the final day of organized team activities, isn’t subscribing to that theory. Rapid improvement in the hip leads him to believe he can be ready to go by the beginning of camp in late July.

“Overall, rehab is going well. Working on it every day. I’m starting to do lower-body lifts,” Jones said. “The frustrating part is I want to go, and I feel I can run. But I have to listen to the (athletic trainers), and so I’m taking my time, being patient and just doing what they’re telling me to do.”

But ultimately, the goal isn’t for Jones to be ready this summer, or even make it back for next week’s three-day minicamp. He is eyeing the start of training camp in late July as a true target date for his return.

“Definitely. I want to be back at training camp,” Jones said. “I want to be back with my teammates and play in the preseason games. That’s the target.”

This accelarated timeline shouldn’t be a surprise. Jones famously snapped his knee back into place and kept it pushing a few years ago.

Jones had an iconic year at right cornerback for the Cowboys. After spending the majority of his first three seasons playing a hybrid defensive back role and spending far too many snaps at safety, Kris Richard moved him to boundary corner and the 2015 first-round pick flourished. He was as lockdown a defender as there could be in today’s NFL, allowing under 50% completions in seven of the team’s first 12 games.

It was in the 12th game, against New Orleans, where Jones may have suffered the injury. His play certainly wasn’t on par after that point, giving up a passer rating over 138 on throws in his direction in three of his final six games, and over 90 in five of those six.

His play was so good over the first stretch of the season though, it didn’t much matter, earning Jones high praise and a second-team All-Pro nod.

Jones has a lot on the table in 2019, so getting back on the field is imperative. He is going to play the season on his fifth-year option, meaning he is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Even with the option being based on the transition tag, Jones is severely underpaid. The option is based on the position played during the player’s third season, which for Jones was at safety – a less rewarded position than corner.

Granted, $6.3 million surely isn’t chump change, but it’s about $3 million less than if Dallas had been playing him at corner all along. The Cowboys are looking to work out long-term agreements with many of their young stars, but have QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, RB Ezekiel Elliott and even possibly LB Jaylon Smith ahead of Jones in their hierarchy.

That could lead to Jones receiving the franchise tag in 2020, to make sure Dallas doesn’t lose him. The entire cornerback depth chart is full of rentals at this point, making things even more difficult.

Anthony Brown, the starter in the slot, is also on an expiring deal, and No. 2 and No. 4 corners, Chido Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, will have their contracts expire after 2020. Dallas drafted Miami’s Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, hoping he can learn quickly and be inserted in the rotation to help offset any depth.

Jones doesn’t seem to have plans for that to happen on his watch, for his position.

“You always want to be better than the previous year. That’s always my goal,” Jones said. “That’s really my philosophy in life – just be better than the day before. Just keep building on top of that.”

If he gets back in time for a full training camp, there’s no reason to question his ability to do so.

What if an NFL draft prospect ran a 3.99-second 40-yard dash? Or put up 52 reps on the bench press? That’s essentially what UConn cornerback Byron Jones did at the NFL Scouting Combine, when he set his feet and broad-jumped an astounding 12’3″.

Per NFL Media’s Mike Mayock, the best he’d seen since covering the combine in 2003 was 11’7″; Jones beat that mark by 5.8 percent.

The 6’1″, 199-pounder’s incredible explosion was on display in the vertical jump, too. His 44.5″ mark was best among defensive backs this year and second to only Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley overall. In case you missed it, NFL Media kindly provided the jaw-dropping clips:

As fantastic as those numbers were, we didn’t get to see the one drill we wanted to see most: Jones sprinting halfway down the Lucas Oil Field sideline. Unbelievably, per NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Jones is still recovering from labrum surgery, so we’ll have to wait until Jones’ pro day to see him in full flight.

The 2015 draft class is thin at cornerback—a premium position—and elite athleticism commands a premium above and beyond that. Did Jones just vault to the top of draft boards around the NFL?

Going into the combine, Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller didn’t have Jones in his top 50 prospects. In fact, Jones only barely cracked Miller’s top 25 cornerbacks, at No. 24. With his big frame and aggressive, physical approach, Jones’ explosion numbers should make him a lock for the first round. So why isn’t he?

As the Hartford Courant’s Desmond Conner wrote during the season, the team captain and four-year starter fell short of everyone’s expectations on the field in 2014.

“I think I need to step it up,” Jones said, per Conner. “Being as athletic as I am, I have to apply that to the game of football. There’s no reason to be in a good position and not get an interception or not bat the ball away and make the tackle.”

That quote came in a story reacting to Jones’ poor game against FCS squad Stony Brook, where one of the Seawolves went up over Jones for a crucial catch in an unexpectedly close 19-16 UConn win.

“I’m working on it every day,” Jones said. “I talked to Coach multiple times. We’re on it together. He’s down my back. I’m down my own back. I was frustrated with the play but you have to roll with the punches and keep playing. I couldn’t crawl into a corner.”

Five weeks later, Jones returned his first interception of the season for a touchdown against South Florida. One week after that, Jones snagged another pick—and then suffered the torn labrum that ended his collegiate career.

NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah shared his scouting report on Jones, calling him a potential “steal”:

Across the NFL, scouts will be going back to the miles of tape Jones put out in four seasons at UConn to figure out where those top-of-the-draft tools were hiding. They’ll also try to spot what held Jones back from getting the most out of his jaw-dropping skill set. Per Chip Malafronte and Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register, it isn’t an issue of character or motivation.

With so few elite athletes at the cornerback position, NFL teams will do their homework on this kid. Of course, there have been plenty of workout warriors who failed to translate those skills to the football field. Plenty of freakily athletic prospects never became All-Pros.

Jones did, however, catch the attention of everyone in the football-watching world. After all, there’s a huge difference between a player who can’t jump 44.5″ and a player who doesn’t always out-jump Colonial Athletic Association wide receivers—and sometimes, NFL coaching can bridge that difference.

If Jones wants to keep the football world drooling, first he’ll have to repeat the feats (or come close) at UConn’s Mar. 31 pro day, per DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline. Then Jones will have to top himself by cutting a very fast 40-yard dash.

If he does those things, Jones just might jump up the draft board—way, way up.

Rico Gathers Jersey

The 6’8″ tight end they call Zeus has everyone gawking again. Only this time, the highest-paid practice-squad player in the NFL isn’t gliding across a football field.

He’s humiliating men on a basketball court.

This is familiar territory for 272-pound Rico Gathers. Just two months before signing with the Dallas Cowboys—who selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft—Gathers put the cherry on top of a banner college hoops career by breaking Baylor’s career rebounding record while finishing third on the Big 12’s all-time list.

But there are no stat crews on this March evening nearly one year later—no cheerleaders or television cameras at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, where 27 randoms watch from the stands as Gathers sets picks for Tony Romo and takes post feeds from Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott. Yes, the mammoth forward who played before thousands in the NCAA tournament and once snared 28 rebounds in a single game is now the star of a church-league squad comprised of his Cowboys teammates.

Midway through the first half, Gathers explodes past his defender, drives through the lane and soars toward the basket. Cocked behind his shoulder, the orange ball looks like a grapefruit in Gathers’ large, leathery palm—almost invisible until he slams it through the hoop, scowling as he grabs the iron and bends it toward the floor.

“Wow,” says Prestonwood coach Andy Alberth, clasping his hands behind his head as he paces the sideline. Alberth, who is Romo’s cousin, had heard stories about Gathers’ physicality on the court but had yet to witness it in person.

“He’s going to shatter a backboard,” Alberth says to a friend. “They’ll kick him out of the league.”

These moments make it clear why 26 scouts hurried to Baton Rouge in April 2016 to watch Gathers work out just weeks after announcing his plans to quit basketball and enter the NFL draft. They explain why Dallas selected Gathers even though he hadn’t played football since the eighth grade.

And one year later in Oxnard, California, they’re the reason Gathers has become the bearded lady of Cowboys training camp, the sideshow everyone’s filming on Snapchat, one of the main players fans scream for and gossip about.

Media members request to speak with Gathers—who caught a touchdown pass in each of Dallas’ first two preseason contests—almost daily. The rapper Ice Cube recently sent a shout-out on YouTube, and boxing champion Mikey Garcia (37-0) tracked down Gathers after a recent workout and asked if he could have his gloves.

It’s all happening at warp speed for Gathers, whose coaches are taking extra precaution to make sure the buzz doesn’t go to his head.

Gathers was scolded during minicamp for saying he was the “heir apparent” to Witten, a future Hall of Famer and one of the most respected players on the team. He was briefly sent to the locker room following a practice skirmish with linebacker Kyle Wilber. And as impressive as Gathers’ scoring receptions were, tight ends coach Steve Loney constantly reminds him not to get caught up on “flash plays.” Gathers’ blocking, Loney says, needs work.

Lots of it.

“Has he made winning plays? Absolutely,” Loney says. “He’s obviously got a God-given talent, but he’s got to see the bigger picture.”

Gathers insists he does.

And while he realizes he still has much to learn, the Louisiana native is confident his size and natural ability will earn him a spot on the active roster.

“I think I can make an impact this year,” says Gathers, lounging in a VIP tent following a recent practice in Oxnard. “I’ve shown what I can do. From rebounds to touchdowns…that’s what I specialize in.

“You want to score? Throw the ball my way. I’ll come down with it. I’ll catch it.”

When his phone rang on Day 3 of the 2016 draft, Rico Gathers was hardly expecting to hear Jerry Jones’ voice on the other end.

Or the voice of any NFL owner, for that matter.

Gathers knew he’d impressed teams at his pro day, but he assumed he’d go undrafted and entertain multiple offers to sign as a free agent.

“Hearing Jerry tell me I was going to be a Dallas Cowboy…it gave me goosebumps,” Gathers says.

An even more meaningful conversation between Jones and Gathers occurred four months later. After logging just 12 snaps and one reception in four preseason games, Gathers wasn’t surprised when the Cowboys cut him with the intention of signing him to their practice squad. The shocker came a few days after, when Oakland contacted Gathers and offered him a spot on its 53-man roster.

“It was crazy,” Gathers says. “I hadn’t done anything to deserve that.”

Rather than earn $112,200 in Dallas, Gathers would make a league-minimum $499,990 with the Raiders. The money too significant to pass up, Gathers informed Jones he was signing with Oakland.

“Sorry,” Jones told him. “We can’t let that happen.”

Even though a promotion to the 53-man roster in 2016 seemed unlikely, Jones matched the Raiders’ offer and paid Gathers like a full-time member of the team. With one signature, Gathers became the highest-paid practice-squad player in the NFL.

“We were the ones who gave him an opportunity in the league, so I think he felt loyal to us,” Cowboys director of player personnel Will McClay says. “Plus, our coaches really wanted to keep him. We were seeing progress.”

Indeed, as thankful as he was for the money, Gathers was even more touched by the commitment. The Cowboys genuinely believed in him and thought he had a chance to become the next Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham—college basketball stars who transitioned to football and blossomed at tight end.

“From that point on,” Gathers says, “I knew my destiny was to be a Dallas Cowboy.”

A study of Gathers’ background suggests drafting him wasn’t as risky as it might have appeared. His father is the cousin of former Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers, and Rico’s older brother, Greg, ranks second on Georgia Tech’s all-time sacks list.

It didn’t take long to realize Rico had been blessed with his family’s athletic genes. On the opening play of his first-ever football game, eight-year-old Rico scored on an 80-yard run.

“It was like that for the next five years,” Greg says. “No one could stop him. It was easy for him.”

And also dangerous.

By the time Rico was 13, opponents had resorted to lunging at his knees to bring him down. Greg feared an injury could set his brother back not only on the football field but also on the basketball court, where Rico’s AAU squad had advanced to the national championship.

Greg convinced his brother to give up football and devote himself to the hardwood.

“I took so much flak for that,” Greg says. “Football is religion in Louisiana, and Rico would’ve been one of the top players in the state, but in basketball he was towering over everyone and getting so much attention.

“I told him to stick with that for two years and, if nothing happened, he could always go back to football.”

But something did happen, as Division I scholarship offers began to pour in after Gathers’ sophomore season. Gathers chose Baylor. When he arrived in Waco for his official visit, he was greeted by Director of Basketball Operations Tim Maloney.

Maliek Collins Jersey

FRISCO — If asked to name the most impactful members of the Cowboys’ 2018 defense, most

would immediately mention end DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones or linebackers

Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.

While all four are deserving, Dallas’ starting tackles — Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins

— are quickly earning their share of recognition.

Lawrence answered questions at his locker Friday while wearing a T-shirt that had a

caricature of Woods on front with his slogan “Don’t Blink” written across the top and

bottom.

Woods and Collins anchor the middle of a defensive line that has become one of the NFL’s

best at stopping the run. They performed so well three weeks ago against Philadelphia that

both were given game balls.

It’s become obvious over the last month that their biggest fan inside The Star is defensive

coordinator Rod Marinelli.

“These guys are up field, low center of gravity, good feet, good base, good hips, they

disrupt the line of scrimmage like we want,” Marinelli said. “They’re not sideways guys.

They’re explosive guys up the field. And that starts to disrupt blocking patterns.

With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn’t far away. However, the majority

of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature

players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and

their future prospects.

Today, we continue the series with defensive tackle Maliek Collins.

What’s Been Good: For the third straight season, Collins was a primary starter in the

defensive tackle rotation. He started nine of 13 games and played just under half of the

defense’s total season snaps. Working primarily alongside nose tackle Antwaun Woods,

Collins ranked fourth on defense in pressures (20) and fifth in sacks (3). Overall the

Cowboys fielded one of the league’s best run defenses and tied for the fourth-lowest yards

allowed per carry (3.8).

What’s Been Bad: Collins has shown toughness dealing with injuries since Dallas drafted

him in the third round back in 2016. For the second time in three years, he missed part of

training camp following foot surgery. Then he missed three games in late September/early

October with a sprained knee and popped up on the injury report at points throughout the

season.

2018 Highlight: In Week 6, his first game back from the knee sprain, Collins showed

incredible agility against the Jaguars when he lined up wide – nearly to the edge – and

used the extra space to spin inside and beat guard Andrew Norwell for a sack on quarterback

Blake Bortles. The eight-yard loss forced Jacksonville to punt, part of a scoreless first

half. Not bad for a 308-pound tackle working against a 2017 All-Pro guard.

What’s Next: Collins is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but once again he

’ll be an important part of what Dallas does up front on defense. The 23-year-old is an

impact player when healthy, and the club could look to add more tackle depth to reduce wear

and tear on him, Woods and captain Tyrone Crawford.

Bryan Broaddus’ Bottom Line: Maliek Collins is one of my favorite players to watch when he

’s on. I’d love to see a season where he is completely healthy and practicing full each

week. To his credit he has battled through issues and lined up to play when they’ve needed

him. He was paired nicely with Antwaun Woods this season and was a solid combination

inside, especially when it came to defending the run. Appreciated his ability to not only

play with that first-step quickness but the power he displays when taking on blockers.

Collins is a solid, dependable starter that needs just a little bit more luck on the health

side.

Maliek Collins is about to enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. The Cowboys defensive tackle, taken in the third round of the 2016 draft, would love to be considered among Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jaylon Smith as major stars of that class. But he hasn’t made it so far, and the team’s makeup in 2019 could make things even more difficult.

If he wants to remain a starter this season, Collins will have to compete with veteran Tyrone Crawford and emerging stud Antwaun Woods. He may also need to worry about newly-signed Christian Covington from the Texans, who could blossom as a 4-3 DT as he converts from a 3-4 DE in Houston.

If that wasn’t enough, there is plenty of speculation that Dallas will spend one of its top two picks in this year’s draft at defensive tackle.

With the Cowboys now having DeMarcus Lawrence signed to a long-term deal and acquiring veteran DE Robert Quinn, it would seem that Tyrone Crawford will be fully dedicated to the DT position going forward. There is a strong possibility that Dallas will see Crawford and Antwaun Woods as their top two tackles.

Of course, “starter” is a loose term when it comes to the Cowboys defense. The heavy rotation that Rod Marinelli employs keeps everyone fairly busy.

But for a guy like Maliek Collins, trying to position himself for free agency in 2020, being stuck in a timeshare isn’t ideal. It’s especially troubling if you’re not getting the majority of the available snaps.

With no years left on his contract, Collins may even be a target for a cap-saving move. Dallas could trade or release Maliek for an easy $2 million in cap space, which they might value more than the player by final cuts.

Collins has been a solid player for his three years in Dallas, but circumstances in 2019 are not looking great. Hopefully he can wow the team in training camp this year and at least hold on to his roster spot, if not earning a significant role this season.

Jaylon Smith Jersey

FRISCO, Texas — It’s a Wednesday night in early December, the Dallas Cowboys are rolling, and Jaylon Smith is the toast of the town. The moment he steps into Dee Lincoln Prime, a hush knifes through the Christmas music on the speakers and adoring eyes dart his direction. The second-year NFLer strides past a gaudy wine storage room, his sparkling blue suit coat a beam of a light in this dimly lit restaurant.
Moments after Smith lounges atop the firm leather seating that overlooks the room, a waiter arrives, and he orders Malbec, an easy choice for him. Smith cradles the neck of the glass with three fingers and swirls. And stares. And swirls. And stares. He truly started developing his wine palette last June and likes, no, “luhhhhhves” Malbec. This grape, to him, is a perfect blend of dry and sweet.

Smith parked his vehicle right in front of the restaurant, so one employee jets over and offers to move it for him. Smith hands him his keys.

Soon, shots on the house will be served.

Soon, a woman will interrupt to snap a photo with Smith.

The Cowboys are on the cusp of a division title. Smith is the face of one of the NFL’s best defenses.

Life is good.

“It’s different when you win for the Cowboys,” Smith says. “It’s a totally different feeling in the world.”

This is the life Smith envisioned when nobody else did.

You remember the horror story. A star at Notre Dame, a legitimate candidate to be a top-three overall draft pick, Smith played in a meaningless bowl game and his leg snapped at the knee. His career burnt to ashes before it even began. Just the name—Jaylon Smith—quickly came to represent one of our generation’s most tragic football stories. People spoke of his name as if he were dead.

Nobody in the first round would touch him because nobody had a clue if he’d be able to put weight on his left foot again—if the nerve in his knee would regenerate.
It did, so here he is. Sipping wine. Ordering Japanese wagyu that isn’t even on the menu. Hunting quarterbacks and mauling running backs. He’s the reason to think that amid an offensive revolution, a team can still back-alley brawl its way to the Super Bowl. His energy in the locker room is infectious, and his personality in this restaurant is magnetic.Out of nowhere, a Dee Lincoln manager named Tony beelines to the table and puts an arm around Smith. They act like lifelong friends even though Smith’s been here only once before—when he came with Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.”

Do you need anything?” Tony asks, before answering for Smith. “A shot of tequila?”

Of course. Smith loves tequila. Don Julio 1942 with a lemonade chaser sounds about right.

Moments later, shots ‘n’ chasers in hand, Tony raises a glass.

“Cheers, brother,” he says. “The NFC East is yours.”

The tequila burns smoothly down Smith’s throat, and he doesn’t squint or flinch. He only smiles and soaks in the moment. Nobody could’ve expected this swift of a takeover, but here he is, a 6’2″, 245-pound missile of a middle linebacker aiming to announce his presence to the world this postseason. Cowboys headquarters, the Star at Frisco, is basically its own city with bars and restaurants and shops surrounding the Cowboys’ practice facility.

Everyone knows all Cowboys players walking the sidewalks around here.

And right now, Smith is obviously the king of this city.

He likes the sound of that.

“It’s my defense, man.”

He has arrived. Finally. Smith is himself again, and what a glorious feeling that is.

There’s no disputing that this is his defense. That he’s become one of the league’s best linebackers. That he’s a player with the kind of speed and punch and venom you’ll find in Canton.

Yet the tequila and Malbec won’t cloud his vision tonight. Not after nearly losing everything.

“None of that s–t matters if we lose,” Smith says. “We’ve got to keep perspective.”

He looks around the restaurant.

“They don’t care about none of that if you lose.”

One game, one play can change everything.

Smith knows this better than anybody.

So now he’s leaning forward in his seat and staring blankly ahead as if a projection screen has suddenly unfurled from the ceiling and is replaying the worst moment of his life: the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. He’s right back in the moment.

He details falling down once on the play, popping back to his feet and thinking, in that exact moment, I’m not falling again. I’m going to catch myself. So when Smith was dinged from behind again, he tried staying upright, and he hyperextended his knee.

He wants one fact clear.

“I got pushed in the back after the play was over. Whistle blown. All of that. Pushed in the back.”

Four more times in the next 15 seconds, Smith repeats he was shoved “after the play.” Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker and Smith reconciled by phone after, but it’s obvious Smith forgives but never forgets. That day, he tore his ACL, LCL and suffered severe damage to his peroneal nerve, the nerve that sends sensors to the foot. Smith hopped eight strides on his right foot before finally collapsing in pain and slamming the turf. He left the field on a cart, in tears, thinking, Why now? over and over again. Why now? He had never suffered an injury before, period, his entire life.

Three months before he was set to make millions of dollars, he couldn’t walk.

“A lot of people thought I would never play the game again,” Smith says. “I couldn’t lift my foot up! I literally could not lift my foot up. For an entire year. Seriously. Before I started getting any movement. … It’s all God’s timing. There’s nothing I can do. There’s things that can ‘promote’ it. But nerves come back when they want to come back.

“I knew there was a chance I’d never be able to lift my leg up again.”

Sometimes, he was told, the nerve never regenerates. The Cowboys gambled the 34th pick on the hope it would. The man who did Smith’s surgery, Dr. Daniel Cooper, is the team’s physician. Still, the unknown lingered. His only option? Be patient. “Embrace” his predicament. He waited days, weeks, months. He watched the Cowboys rampage to a surprise 13-3 season, powerless when Aaron Rodgers KO’d them in the playoffs.

All the while, Smith’s days consisted of rehabbing (popping outside in the 100-degree heat when the rest of the team was indoors); attending every meeting; and getting into real estate development, venture capital opportunities—all things business off the field.

Smith had no clue what the future held, but he refused to get trapped in his own mind. He refused to entertain the notion of never playing again.

“Because there were so many people thinking that way,” Smith says. “I couldn’t allow myself to do that.

“It just drove me. I figured, the more I’m frustrated, the less reaction I’m going to get. So I stayed even-keeled.”

One memory pops into his head and Smith pulls out his cell phone to tap words into the Notes app. He says he’s writing a book and doesn’t want to spill all the details quite yet.

Spoiler alert: The nerve did regenerate, but…ever…so…gradually.

By the spring of 2017, Smith could lift his toes. That fall, he returned to rack up 81 tackles (50 solo) and one sack. This season, he has taken over games, with 106 tackles (72 solo), four sacks and two forced fumbles through 14 games.

You see the numbers. You see the highlights.

But central to the rebirth is the mind. The possibility of never putting weight on his foot again when he was that close to a childhood dream had to shatter his sanity. So he’s asked this question in every possible way: How did you not go freaking crazy? Smith ran the numbers, estimating he lost about $17 million on draft day. To Smith, it’s not that complicated. He had already prepared himself for this adversity. As a college sophomore, he vividly remembers asking himself aloud, “What defines Jaylon Smith?” and wanted the answer to be someone who impacts lives beyond football.

On the spot, he created a mantra he repeats to anyone who’ll listen: “Clear Eye View.” Maintaining a clear eye view is the key to life, he says, and is built on three pillars: a focused vision, determined belief and earned dreams.

He knew he’d play again, so nothing else mattered. Granted, several college stars have since skipped their bowl games because of him, because his story’s so tragic. Smith acknowledges, “I have affected college football history forever!” He made it OK to skip bowl games.

If he could hop in a time machine, of course Smith would opt to sit out that Fiesta Bowl, pocket $17 million, avoid this hell completely…right?

“Obviously I thought about it…”

Right when he’s ready to make a point, Smith is interrupted by a woman named Erica, who wants to take a picture. Smith doesn’t hesitate—”We can take a selfie!”—re-gathers his thoughts and is interrupted again. It’s Tony. The manager’s back to tell Smith that the folks sitting at a table nearby work for Jagermeister and want to buy him a shot. Rather than play telephone, Smith shouts their direction, “I’ve been on 1942! … I’ll be an investor, though. Can I get some equity? What’s the minimum investment? What does it taste like?”

Tony doesn’t want Smith to end up face down in his own dinner, so when he brings back three Jager shots, most of Jaylon’s is poured into, uh, his dinner guest’s glass.

“It’s minty!” Jaylon yells to them. “Minty!”

Then, he picks up where he left off.

Smith genuinely loves that prospects today are making a business decision. As an entrepreneur himself, he loves that nobody feels obligated to play in a bowl game. But to truly understand how Smith’s mind works—how he persevered, why he’s different—understand this: He would play in that Fiesta Bowl again. Really. The chance to play in a game with 13 projected first-round picks, to meet Ezekiel Elliott in the hole, to be seen by so many scouts in the press box and a national television audience and, above all, to fulfill the duty he felt as a team captain for Notre Dame.

His adrenaline pumps all over again thinking about that game.

To Smith, it was simply “value over cost.”

“I would do it again,” says Smith. Then he says it again. Louder this time.

“I would do it again.”

And it’s clear. The Cowboys aren’t here, on the cusp of burgeoning greatness, without that injury either.

There’s a ravenous look in Smith’s eyes as he imagines a new scene on that virtual projector.

A NSFW scene.

Those one-man blasts that change games every Sunday.

“The difference about me is I’m a playmaker,” Smith says, “but the plays that I make, they energize the team.”

So many Smith collisions have sent the Dallas sideline into a frenzy this season. Take his hit in Houston. On 4th-and-goal— playing spy—Smith sprinted 35 yards to the sideline, head bobbing, arms chopping, dreads flowing, to absolutely wallop Deshaun Watson.

That one still has teammates in awe.

Then, there’s the chilling 3rd-and-17, helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara.

The blow unbuckled Kamara’s chinstrap, made him stammer back onto the turf after trying to get up and, yes, cost Smith $26,000.

Anyone with a pulse who saw the play knows Smith should’ve been flagged on it.

Not that he sees it that way.

“He turned his head and his shoulders at the last second while I’m already going to hit him,” Smith says. “Mind you, he’s a running back. I could see if it’s a quarterback or a receiver that’s catching the ball, defenseless. … In the tenth of a second, he turns his body and lowers his head—toward my striking point! It’s football. I can’t worry about that stuff.”

He’s appealing the fine. He expects it to be reduced. Whatever Smith ends up paying will be worth it because, well, value over cost.

“He’s Kamara. All-Pro guy. But I’m nice, too. I was able to exemplify that on the play.

“We were able to put the world on notice that night. Because everybody was watching. Everybody thought we were going to get blown out. We believed in each other. We knew what type of team we had. We just have to go out and prove it every week. That’s the beauty of the NFL. The only thing that matters is what you do now. And as a competitor, you love it, because you have to go out each and every weekend and prove that you belong and, individually, that you’re one of the elite.”

That game, Smith asserts, proved he is elite.

“And if you still have doubts about me? Then, s–t…” he says with a chuckle. “That’s cool. I can deal with that, too.

“I believe in myself. I believe in myself.”

This belief this season has been contagious in Dallas. Each hit, each speech, each conversation Smith initiates is galvanizing, electrifying, because everyone on this roster remembers that Fiesta Bowl. They saw him pound the turf, then saw him rehabbing every day. The injury is a part of Smith and, absolutely, a part of these Dallas Cowboys. His energy has become their energy.

Cornerback Byron Jones vividly recalls Smith limping all over the facility with a bulky brace over his knee. Jones wondered when the day would come where Smith would appear down, depressed, defeated. He was ready to console, to help heal. And he never needed to.

Smith never stopped smiling.

“Everyone counted him out,” Jones says. “Now, he’s one of the biggest stars in the NFL. His unwavering belief that, ‘I’m going to come back and be a badass linebacker,’ you could see that from Day 1. He never was doubting himself.

“It’s a respect thing. We respect where he came from.”

Corner Jourdan Lewis went to a ton of the same football camps as Smith growing up in nearby Detroit, a couple hours away, and detected an “I was born to do this” resolve then. Today, he says, everyone gravitates toward Smith. Imitates Smith. They want to be the worker he is behind the scenes.

With flags flying at a ridiculous rate in today’s NFL and quarterback play better than ever, it can feel like a defender’s back is forever stuck against the wall.

Smith’s presence in Dallas takes such gloom and doom and dread and tosses it in the trash.

His back was against the wall. And here he is.

“The way Jaylon plays,” Lewis says, “that’s how you have to think. You have to be like, ‘Whatever. The odds might be against us but we have to go out there full speed and attack.'”

Adds linebacker Chris Covington: “When he makes one play, it’s turnt up. It just takes one play.”

So, no, it’s not a shock when multiple players note that a huge fight broke out at practice recently. Nobody will dish names, but this is exactly the kind of cutthroat environment Smith has helped create. The middle of December feels like the middle of August.

Smith says he wants this defense working its ass off, daily, relentlessly chasing perfection. Many practices, he’ll stop everything to redo a play. He demands all 11 players know exactly what they’re seeing and what they’re doing.

He had the passing-the-torch conversation with veteran Sean Lee long ago. This is his time.

He’s the one telling everyone where to go on the field, play to play. He relishes the pressure of wins and losses resting on his shoulders.

“The defense doesn’t succeed without me,” he says. “I’m a born leader. It’s innate.”

He points to his heart.

“People can feel it—in here.”

So quite possibly, he’s the one uniquely qualified to crash the party this postseason. The weapon who can carry America’s Team back to the Super Bowl for the first since in 23 years. Jerry Jones has tried everything since he last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. The answer may be a player the entire league passed on.

Smith believes he was destined for it.

He points to an ability to relate to any player of any race from any background, having grown up on the south side of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, the rough side, before attending a Catholic high school and Catholic college. In frigid Indiana winters, kids either hooped or bowled—he did both. Smith calls himself a Kevin Garnett-like threat on the court—with the ability to run the floor, mind you. He knows he’d be in the NBA right now if he was five inches taller. At the lanes? Smith owns a 210 average, and when he’s informed that rookie Shaquem Griffin can bowl too, Smith assures, “I’d kick his ass.”

No wagyu will distract Smith from the reality he once worked at Burger King to pay for his own gas in high school.

No rise to stardom will make Smith forget he was once lost in his brother’s shadow. Rod, now a backup running back in Dallas, was “Big Smooth.” Rod was the hometown hero rushing for nearly 7,000 yards in high school. As the overlooked “Little Smooth,” Jaylon was driven to be his own man.

He’s a savvy businessman, turning that “Clear Eye View” life credo into a brand. Until that second contract, expect to see Smith spam your social media feeds with CEV eyewear products. Ah, yes, that beautiful second contract. (“Jerry’s going to bless me,” he says, smiling.)

He’s inquisitive. He turns a conversation about football into a conversation about relationships and life and love for a good 25 minutes. His girlfriend’s back home in Indiana. Smith’s always learning.

He’s forgiving. With every reason to be vengeful, Smith gets that teams needed to make their own business decisions and insists everyone in the NFL is rooting for him. That’s fine, but shouldn’t teams have gotten to know him as a man through those 26 interviews at the combine? They should’ve gotten to know what he just pointed to, his heart.

Smith shrugs.

“It was going to take one team to believe.”

As “My Favorite Things” to “O Come All Ye Faithful” to all the Christmas classics play, Jaylon Smith sneezes and a waitress serving another table turns to say, “Be careful. Please do not be sick!” Then Tony re-re-reappears to offer one more shot on the house.

“S–t,” says Smith. “Why not?”

“Be right back.”

“1942!”

“I got you! I got you!”

Three minutes later, glasses are tipped and Tony assures Smith he’ll always have his back here. The two exchange numbers, and it’s clear Smith will be back for more 1942. And yet Smith’s words this night about taking this season one day at a time would go on to prove prophetic. Four days after this dinner, Dallas would proceed to get shut out by the Indianapolis Colts with its offense as potent as that lemonade chaser on the table.

One week, Dak Prescott lights up Philadelphia in an overtime thriller. The next, he posts an 0-fer. The clear eye view for the Cowboys couldn’t be clearer: The defense must carry them through January. And that’s fine by Jaylon Smith. Fine by everyone on his side of the ball. He’s not afraid.

Not of Drew Brees, of Sean McVay’s brilliance, of Russell Wilson’s wizardry, of anything…including a check that should pop both of his eyes out of their sockets. The bill at Dee Lincoln Prime arrives, and Smith’s 22 ounces of wagyu apparently cost north of $800. He can’t remember the waiter’s warning, but apparently this stuff goes for $40 an ounce.

Smith stares at the bill, shocked for about 2.3 seconds, then shrugs and pays for his portion of the meal.

He doesn’t stress. He tells the waiter the steak was “delicious” and “perfect” and one of the best he’s ever had in his life. No use going ballistic, no use racking his brain around insanely high steak prices. That’s not how the king of this city would act.

Smith grabs that blue coat and his leftovers, and as he walks back outside into the 58-degree air, he apologizes for not giving up more details on the year his football career was in peril.

He’s trying to save a few stories for his book, for one. And Jaylon Smith also knows this: His career is truly just now beginning.

He still has hundreds of pages fill.

Joe Looney Jersey

Joe Looney had a solid senior season with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and managed to surprise everyone by getting selected in the 2012 NFL draft.

The 6’3”, 309-pound guard was unable to participate in the draft combine or Wake Forest’s pro day due to an ankle injury.

Fortunately, he had a good week of practice in Tampa for the East-West Shrine game, and that gave scouts the look they needed to put this guy back on the big board.

Looney is a strong run blocker with a winning mentality and figures to be a great locker room presence.

However, he wasn’t on a particularly good line during college and the Demon Deacons gave up many sacks and had trouble establishing the run during his senior year.

In 2011, Looney’s line was No. 89 in sacks allowed and No. 104 in total rushing. He’ll have to prove he was not the reason for those pitiful stats.

ProFootballWeekly.com believes that Looney’s initial quickness and strong body made him a third-round value, but his nagging injuries killed his value.

He’s got a lot of work to do to become a starter in this league and PFW believes his short arms and inconsistency may hurt his career.
Looney is not going to step in and become a Pro Bowler in his rookie season, but he’s versatile enough to fill in as a backup for a number of positions along the offensive line.

At worst, he is a practice squad player, but he has a good shot of making the roster.

The 49ers finally drafted their guard, though three rounds later than many people thought. Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal were both lost in free agency, so Looney should have opportunity to win a starting job in training camp.

ARLINGTON — Cowboys center Joe Looney is adjusting to the increased scrutiny on him as he fills in for All-Pro Travis Frederick, who is out indefinitely with an auto-immune disorder.

Not only are regular crowds of cameras gathering around his locker, but his play is being analyzed more as well.

During Sunday night’s preseason loss to the Arizona Cardinals, with the line struggling at times while missing three regular starters, he made a couple of memorable plays and held his own. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 30 offensive snaps and allowed zero total pressures on 19 pass blocking snaps.

On one play, Looney pulled to the right and made a nice block to clear the way for running back Rod Smith.

At the end of the first half, he also helped chase down a Cardinals player after backup quarterback Cooper Rush threw an interception at the end of the half. While making the tackle, he banged up his hand.

Doctors looked at it on the bench, but determined he was fine. The last thing the Cowboys need is another O-line injury.

“I don’t make a lot of tackles,” Looney said Sunday night. “I haven’t made a tackle since high school. So my form is not up to par, but my hand is fine. I just hit it wrong. …It’s one of those nicks in a game where it hurts but you just deal with it.”
Looney, who spent most of his previous six seasons in the NFL as a backup, said he was happy to see Frederick on the sideline Sunday. Frederick continues to work with Looney, offering advice and critiques.

“They’re pretty detailed, you know Travis,” Looney said. “It’s good for me to hear while I’m out there, helps me during the game. And ultimately, it’s going to help the team.”

FRISCO — So you ate too much last week during Thanksgiving, huh? No problem, Cowboys center Joe Looney is here for you.

Looney, at 315 pounds but all personality, says he has a solution for anyone looking to drop a few pounds.

Looney on Monday was asked by a local TV camerman about his fondness of Mr. Goodbars, the candy bar in a yellow wrapper containing peanuts and chocolate. Looney turned to his locker at The Star and pulled out a large, half-eaten Mr. Goodbar in the wrapper and small container full of the candy.

“I’ve got two chocolates in here. Which one y’all want?” Looney said to reporters.

Reporter: “Is this Body by Mr. Goodbar?”

“Oh yeah. This is body by Mike Woicik, our strength coach,” said a shirtless Looney. “If you guys are looking to look like this, then get on my eight-week program, dark chocolate, peanut butter and Mr. Goodbars, so y’all let me know. I only charge $25 a session. Eight weeks, you can look like this.”

As Looney gave his pitch, he flexed his pecs one by one. Looney then posed and flexed his biceps in front of his locker.

“Oh, easy,” Looney said. “Call me.”

Looney signed a two-year deal worth $2.1 million ahead of the 2018 season but the second year was actually a team option that needed to be picked up before before the close of the NFL business year at 3 p.m. on March 13. He’ll earn a base salary of just $1 million and an incentive bonus of $500,000 for this season.

The decision to pick up Looney’s option is a no-brainer after the 28-year-old stepped into the starting center role after Travis Frederick was diagnosed with a rare disease and ultimately missed the entire season.

Looney performed admirably in Frederick’s absence and will continue to be a quality depth option for the offensive line in 2019 with Frederick declaring to 105.3 The Fan that he feels “really good about next season.”

A bombshell was dropped yesterday as news broke that All-Pro Center Travis Frederick would miss an indefinite amount of time due to being diagnosed with Guillain-Bare Syndrome. It is a rare auto-immune disease that forces the body to attack its own nerves. Frederick said that it was a positive sign that they caught it early but there is still no timetable for a full recovery as of yet.

While the Cowboys and their fans pray for Frederick to just get better and make a full-recovery from such a terrible disease, the team has to move on and begin searching for his replacement. The team might look at waiver cuts, trades or even free agency, there is one capable player on the roster that could take over.

Joe Looney.

Cowboys fans know backup center Joe Looney more for his humor and out of shape body than his football skills. Looney, a free-agent pickup in 2016, played multiple positions along the interior of the offensive line. He played tight-end as well when Geoff Swain was injured and contributed during short-yardage situations. He loves to be a goofball and play pranks on his teammates, just like the time he impersonated running back Zeke Elliott.

Now the humor has to turn into leadership as the team needs him to step in during one of the most delicate situations this team has faced in awhile. The big question is can he play well enough?

So far in camp, Looney has been one of the major bright spots and has surprised a lot of the media and scouts watching him. This season he showed up in the best shape he’s ever been in since he became a Cowboy and he started to do much better in camp. His play through two preseason games has garnered him praise and he is frequently mentioned in the same sentences as the starting five at times.

Looney knows he has some big shoes to fill and praises the man he’s stepping in for.
With two preseason games left, it is unclear if Looney will play much since he is now the starter for the season opener. One this is for sure that Looney looks the part so far and is ready to hold down the fort while his teammate fights a more important battle.