Aldon Smith hadn't been on a football field in years until he sauntered onto the Dallas Cowboys' facility for training camp.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is impressed with what he's seen from the 30-year-old pass rusher. McCarthy was asked Thursday if Smith seems like a player who has been out of the NFL since 2015.
"I would say that if you walked away from practice you'd say 'Hey, who the hell was No. 58?'" he said, via Michael Gehlken of The Dallas Morning News. "That's my thought when we walked out on the field for the first time. He looks good. I think his process back has been not a gradual one, but he's hitting all the targets. You can see his power and his length is extraordinary. I've very, very happy with where Aldon is right now. You've got so much new around him -- not only hasn't he played, but he's done a great job in training and preparing for this opportunity. But he's playing in a new defense.
"He's playing with new teammates. The communication, the language is new. So, I think for that, I really want to give our staff and our players a ton of credit for what we've accomplished in the virtual meetings because it definitely carried over to our time together here in pre-training camp and training camp. Aldon is off to a very good start. He's impressive. Still very impressive."
Smith hasn't played in a football game since Nov. 15, 2015. He's been suspended multiple times for off-field issues, including violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Now in Dallas, the once-dominant pass rusher is attempting to write a new chapter in his roller-coaster career. From beginning his career with 33.5 sacks in two seasons in San Francisco, to multiple suspensions, to a second-chance in Oakland, to another banishment, to today, the ups-and-downs have been volatile.
If Smith returns at even a fraction of what he was before he missed four full seasons, it would make the Cowboys pass rush rotation exponentially better. According to the man himself, rust won't be an issue in the slightest.
"Everything is happening and everything is looking good. ... I hold myself to high standards. I feel like I can compete with the best. I feel like I'm one of the best," Smith said Thursday, per Jon Machota of The Athletic.
In a year full of wild cards, Smith's storyline has the potential to be one of the best long-shot redemptions we've seen in a while. So far, so good from McCarthy's perspective.
Now Smith must stay on the path and perform when the season officially begins.