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Jones: Jaylon Smith expected to be ready for OTAs

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones raised a few eyebrows around the league when he predicted in December that 2016 second-round draft pick Jaylon Smith will be a "key part" of Dallas' defense this season.

The former Notre Dame standout did not practice or play as a rookie after suffering a devastating knee injury and lingering nerve damage during his last college game.

Nearly a year and a half after that Jan. 1, 2016 Fiesta Bowl, Smith is preparing to make his practice debut with Dallas.

In a Friday appearance with 105.3 The Fan, executive vice president Stephen Jones said he expects Smith and second-year defensive end Charles Tapper to be ready for OTAs in May.

Jones insisted that he is "more fired up than ever" that the Cowboys took a draft flier on Smith, adding that the linebacker is "making great improvements" of late.

"He's another guy that when you look at how we improve our defense over last year, him and Tapper both, as we all know, were high picks for us that didn't contribute last year," Jones added. "We certainly have high hopes for both of those guys and feel like they're going to be ready to go here when OTAs and minicamp start."

Smith was widely hailed as a dominant talent and can't-miss prospect prior to the injury.

The question is how much of that form he can recapture while playing with a brace to assist his drop foot condition.

"We think he's going to be real effective, but how effective remains to be seen," Stephen Jones acknowledged in late February, "and that's why I think it's difficult to say, 'Well, we expect him to be the dominant player he was at Notre Dame.' That's probably high expectations. Is it possible? Absolutely."

The Cowboys will have their first indication of Smith's 2017 potential next month. If he makes it through offseason practices and training camp without a setback, it will be fair for fans to start getting their hopes up for a much-needed defensive stalwart.

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