Rod could see Jaylon out of the corner of his eye as he made his way back to the huddle.
“I’ve been knowing him all my life, so if I hear him yell, out of all the fans and the noise, I can hear his voice,” Rod said. “Just hearing him cheering me on. It’s a voice you could hear it and know who that is.”
Rod, 25, is three years older than his younger brother, Jaylon, the Cowboys’ celebrated second-round pick from the 2016 draft.
Their performances against the Colts were big for different reasons. Rod is fighting to be a part of the Cowboys’ crowded backfield, whether Ezekiel Elliott misses the first six games because of a suspension or not. Jaylon is coming back from a serious knee injury that included nerve damage and saw his first game action in 596 days. In 12 snaps, he made one tackle.
“Man, I think it was a little bit of everything, for real,” Jaylon said of his reactions to Rod’s runs. “Just to really have that competitive nature, we feed off of each other. So me doing good gave him the confidence to do good, and he did his thing. I’m really proud of him. I’m his No. 1 fan.”
This is the first time the brothers have been on the same team.
Rod went to Paul Harding High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jaylon went to Bishop Luers High School. When Rod was a senior and Jaylon was a freshman, they played against each other.
“He actually made me fumble, believe it or not,” Rod said. “But I put a pretty good lick on him when he was carrying the ball. He was a running back. I played safety. He came and tried to block me and I put a lick on him. We’ve been competing, balling against each other since we was little, so it’s beautiful having him here.”
There are 28 sets of brothers currently on NFL rosters, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Smiths are one of four pairs of brothers currently on the same team: Rob Gronkowski and Glenn Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister and Cody Hollister are with the New England Patriots, and Ryan Kalil and Matt Kalil are with the Carolina Panthers.
The last time the Cowboys had a pair of brothers on the same roster came in 2007 with Akin and Remi Ayodele.
When the Cowboys drafted Jaylon with the 34th overall pick last year, knowing he would not play as a rookie because of the knee injury, Rod was sitting with his brother. As Rod opened the 2016 regular season on the 53-man roster and later moved to the practice squad and Jaylon spent the year rehabbing, they lived near each other.
When they got to training camp in Oxnard, California, they were roommates for nearly a month.
It took them back to their days growing up.
“We’re yelling at each other up and down the stairs, talking to each other, so, yeah, it’s cool,” Rod said.
The differences on the field with Rod playing running back and Jaylon playing linebacker carry over off the field. Rod called Jaylon a “neat freak.”
“Yes, I’m a perfectionist,” Jaylon said. “A lot of things growing up my mom would say, ‘Don’t do that,’ and I’d kind of look at some of the stuff that he did, not cleaning his room and stuff like that. But it’s all good.”
Being roommates has helped them on the field. Rod would give Jaylon the whys and hows of the offense, and Jaylon would relate back the same thing defensively.
Despite the injury, Jaylon’s future with the Cowboys was always secure because of his draft status and the Cowboys' belief that he will be an impact player for their defense. Rod’s role was far from certain, especially with Elliott, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris in the running backs room. But in the spring, he received more action during organized team activities. That carried over into training camp.
“That’s my big brother,” Jaylon said. “He’s doing his thing. He’s very comfortable back at the running back position. Last year he switched to fullback, a position he never played before. They asked him to gain 10 pounds. Now he’s confident and he’s looking like his old self.”
Rod said Jaylon is starting to look like his old self, too.
“I knew he could come back and get back to being him, but to be on the same team with him? I never thought that in a million years,” Rod said. “It’s a blessing. We go out there and we motivate each other in practice, at night time, studying asking questions about offense, about defense. We’re just picking each other’s brains. It’s been good. We’re both pushing each other.”