Oxnard, California – Following the worst season in Dallas Cowboys history when it comes to the defense, the finger of blame seems to be pointed at Dallas’ top two linebackers: Leighton Vander Esch, who did not have the final year of his contract picked up by the Cowboys, and Jaylon Smith, even though he led the team in tackles over the last two seasons.
“I don’t care who you are, you are going to have criticism,” says Smith. “Michael Jordan had criticism, Lebron James... The best players in the world have criticism. It’s just part of the game.”
Smith seems to be the target of more than his fair share of criticism following a season where the Dallas defense gave up the most points in franchise history. Maybe it’s because he signed a 5-year, $64 million extension in 2019 or changed his number from 54 to 9, a number once worn by Tony Romo. But Smith does know one thing:
“We can’t be the problem as to why this team doesn’t succeed. And we know that and we are working towards that.”
In Smith’s final year at Notre Dame, he suffered a knee injury so bad it also caused nerve damage. But that did not keep the Cowboys from drafting the linebacker in the second round of the 2016 draft. After the Cowboys spent eight of their 11 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, Smith is faced with his biggest challenge of his career: playing time. That’s after the Cowboys selected linebacker Micah Parsons with their number one pick. He remains undeterred.
“Always got something to prove. People never thought I would play the game again, and I’m here.”