Aldon Smith has already made his mark on the Dallas Cowboys, earning first-team reps at defensive end during the first week of camp as he begins his NFL comeback. Smith hasn't played a regular-season game in five years and hasn't recorded a double-digit sack season since 2012, but Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy already believes he's starting to return to that All-Pro form.
Through the first few practices, Smith has left an impression on McCarthy that indicates the Cowboys have a larger role for him on the defensive line than initially expected.
"He looks great. He's probably about 20 pounds bigger than when I last saw him play for the 49ers. Very powerful. His length is extraordinary," McCarthy said, via Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. "He made a play in the team period on a screen you don't see every day -- that's for sure.
"He's off to a great start. I mean, he's hit the target in every phase that we gone through, particularly in the strength and conditioning."
Smith is expected to rotate at defensive end, which features DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and eventually Everson Griffen, who signed earlier in the week but has not been cleared to practice yet since he has to pass the COVID-19 tests before getting on the field. Griffen immediately becomes the front-runner to start opposite Lawrence, which leaves Crawford, Smith, Joe Jackson and sixth-round pick Bradlee Anae battling for playing time, along with Randy Gregory should his reinstatement become official at some point.
If the Cowboys can discover the 2011-13 version of Smith, they arguably will have the best defensive end rotation in football. Smith was second in the NFL in sacks (42) during that stretch and fourth in quarterback hits (74). His 42 sacks are the third-most in NFL history through a player's first three seasons, behind Reggie White and Derrick Thomas.
Smith recorded just 5.5 sacks over the next two seasons, playing just 13 games due to multiple DUI arrests and serving a nine-game suspension for violations of the personal conduct policy and the substance abuse policy. Smith was later suspended a full year for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse in 2015, which he was involved in an incident where he was charged with hit and run, DUI and vandalism. Smith wasn't reinstated by the NFL until this past May, one month after he signed with the Cowboys.
The first stop on Smith's redemption tour has been a hit, but the Cowboys defensive end has a long way to go.