ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jaylon Smith wasn't sure how many days had passed since he last played in a game. He thought it was close to 700.
Actually, it was 596 days.
In that New Year's Day game, Smith tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee and suffered nerve damage that affected his ability to lift his foot. Saturday, though, marked another crucial step in a comeback some never thought would come after he was hurt.
Smith, who did not play last season after he was picked by the Cowboys in the second round, never doubted.
"Not one moment," he said. "From the start, it's a been a long journey. Like I've told all of you guys, my clear-eye view, a focused vision, determined belief, earned dreams, it's got me here today and it's something where I really appreciate the Jones [family] and everybody with the Cowboys organization for believing in me. It's just the beginning. It's a great feeling."
Smith played in 12 snaps and was credited with one tackle, stopping Colts tight end Jack Doyle on a third-down play in the second series. So excited was Smith that he went through with a celebration he started in high school and carried to college -- The Swipe.
Smith started with Sean Lee out due to a hamstring strain. Anthony Hitchens moved to weakside linebacker, allowing Smith to start at middle linebacker. He did not come off the field in the first three series of action, even playing in the nickel package.
"He's worked really hard to get himself back to this point," coach Jason Garrett said. "To put his Dallas Cowboys uniform on and to go out here at AT&T Stadium and play in a football game, a lot of work has gone into that and it's a real credit to who he is as a guy. His attitude, his mindset, his mentality, his mental and physical toughness are pretty special."
Smith has been an inspiration to his teammates.
"I want him to be the story," said quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed 7 of 8 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut. "It's an amazing story with everything he has done. His attitude after what he went through and his fight last year after getting healthy, I was happy to see him out there doing well. He is already a good football player. It's just a great story that goes along with it."
Smith took part in 10 of the Cowboys' 14 padded practices in training camp in Oxnard, California. The Cowboys have been mindful of how many snaps he gets and what type of snaps he gets to make sure he is ready after such a long rehab. He dressed but did not play in the first two preseason games.
While he has made many tackles in his life, the stop Saturday will be one he remembers.
"A moment I've waited for for a long time," Smith said. "There's many more to come."
Smith still has progress to make. He overran two plays in the third series, but he felt like a player again.
"I felt like Jaylon Smith," he said.