IRVING, Texas -- Last spring Rod Marinelli found himself at Notre Dame for a clinic, in part because his good friend Harry Heistand is the offensive line coach there, when he first saw Jaylon Smith on the practice field.
The impression Smith made lasted with Marinelli, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator.
“I really didn’t know anybody on the team, but he introduced me to himself in two seconds,” Marinelli said. “He went right by me and I was like, ‘Wow, who is that?’”
The Cowboys selected Smith in the second round of the draft last weekend, but Marinelli most likely will not get a chance to coach him on the field until 2017 because of a serious knee injury Smith suffered in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State that included nerve damage.
Smith led the Irish with 114 tackles last season. He also had nine tackles for loss, five pass deflections, one sack, two fumble recoveries and forced a fumble. For his career, he had 293 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, 10 pass deflections, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
“He just leaps off the screen,” Marinelli said of Smith. “He is really good. He is really athletic in space, great hands, great tackler, great blitzer. He is just a real ballplayer. He fits anybody, but in our system with the way we will use him, he will be pretty special.”
There is a giant ‘if’ with Smith because of his injured knee, but if the nerve regenerates the first plan is to use him at middle linebacker. Rolando McClain has been the starter there the last two seasons but is set to be a free agent in 2017.
“We see him as a natural [middle linebacker], but he also has a physical ability to play [weakside linebacker],” coach Jason Garrett said. “He just has some great traits. He’s a big guy. He’s 240-plus pounds. He’s long. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s instinctive. He’s a great tackler. He’s physical. He makes plays on the ball. We don’t see that he has limitations at either of those spots. I think he’d be very natural at either one of them, and has the traits to do it.”