Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Spagnola: Pulling For This Latest Shooting Star

Dallas Cowboys
30 May 2020, 20:24 GMT+10

FROM HOME, Texas - On the one hand, the Dallas Cowboys continue to draw hands of 21.

You know, as previously mentioned, how so much goodness continues to land smack dab in their laps, starting with Mike McCarthy being available to hire as the franchise's ninth head coach, then some free-agency fortuitousness, to CeeDee Lamb unexpectantly floating down to them in the first round of the NFL Draft to now some really circumstantial circumstances for an unseen player acquisition.

And on the other hand, and let's remember, we're only a week into this, now pops up this year's guy, if you are willing to look deep into his circuitous route landing him in Dallas, to root for if and when we get this 2020 NFL season started, a plight laced with such long odds for success, even he says, somewhat rhetorically, when asked about those odds, "What are the odds?"

Yep, put both hands together, and with regards to the 2008 movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, we bring you The Curious Case of Aldon Smith.

This case might even be more curiouser and curiouser, if you will allow me some leeway with the English language.

Think about it now? How did this Smith, born in Greenwood, Miss., by way of St. Louis and then the University of Missouri, with absolutely no connection to the Dallas Cowboys for the first 29 years of his life, other than having played against them only one time during his abbreviated five-year NFL career, and that the second game of his 59-game career, way back on Sept. 18, 2011, end up trying to restart his career some five seasons after serving that indefinite suspension right here with the Cowboys?

And get it? Root for him, too? A guy suspended by the NFL three times, with a litany of arrests and a noted drinking problem? A guy who has not played in an NFL game since Nov. 15, 2015, and has been given up upon by the only two teams (49ers and Raiders) he has played for?

That guy?

You decide.

Me, let's digress.

By chance, before McCarthy even knew he was going to be the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he's visiting his daughter in Los Angeles and takes a tour of Jay Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center, where players and veterans go to rehab and train physically and psychologically. That's where the unemployed former Green Bay head coach meets Aldon Smith.

What are the chances?

"I was just sharing my story, meeting somebody I had previously played against," Smith said during a conference call with local media on Friday about the chance meeting with McCarthy. "I was just meeting him, having a conversation. When I met people or when I met him, I was just sharing who I was and what I had gone through, and my story with him."

Then there is this, from his now agent, locally based Ron Slavin, who only previously knew Smith by name.

"In December, I was actually watching one of the Sunday night football games and I got a call from Jay Glazer," said Slavin, a Mick Shots podcast guest Thursday on DallasCoboys.com. "He called me and said he had been training Aldon since August. That Aldon had been sober since then, and wanted to know if I had interest in working with him. I made a few other phone calls - actually had a couple of other people associated with the league side call me on it - and then Aldon flew to Dallas.

"We met, and, after spending a couple of days with him, I just felt that he was serious and ready. And I think I've said this before, but he told me he's not blaming other people anymore, that he's taking it upon himself, and when people with substance abuse issues take it upon themselves to get themselves right and quit blaming everybody else for their problems is usually the turning point."

Word started getting out. Slavin said when going to the Scouting Combine in February interest in Smith around the league began to grow. Even with the Saints, since head coach Sean Payton has always been pretty tight with Glazer. As we know, Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the former Saints linebackers coach, had already signed on with the Cowboys. So, too, had Jim Tomsula, Smith's defensive line coach his four years with the Niners. Yet another connection since McCarthy hired him to coach the Cowboys defensive line.

"Getting back and being with Jimmy is definitely exciting," Smith said. "We had a great time together with the group of guys we had there."

And then the Slavin factor, having a guy ready to advocate for him living in the Dallas area. So a perfect start to a support group.

"I always thought it, but also I didn't want to make the decision for Aldon," said Slavin of his hopes of Smith signing with the Cowboys. "I wanted him to be comfortable with the decision he made. When I went to the combine and had a bunch of interest, I wanted him to go through it, talk to people and make the decision."

Slavin said during those last few days in March he chose the Cowboys, basically signing a one-year, prove-it deal for $2 million, none of it guaranteed, but with incentive opportunities to earn as much as $4 million.

Yep, yet another one of those Cowboys moonbeams shooting across their horizon over the past five months.

Now, the other hand. Can he do it?

First, from a behavioral standpoint.

"He's so incredibly strong, and the best part is he's a lot stronger behind the rib cage," Glazer has written. "We helped him build himself up from the inside out. We didn't just want to make him physically stronger and faster. We really wanted to build up his emotional and inner strength."

Smith has been sober for the past nine months. Slavin said he's never missed a workout while training and receiving therapy session at Glazer's UPC facility. And once he signed with the Cowboys and moved to Dallas, Slavin has him working out with a former defensive line coach Brandon Tucker, who now trains guys in Dallas.

So far, Smith has not been able to work out with the Cowboys, players and coaches still isolated from The Star. His only contact has been with those streaming learning sessions that started this week for Smith. He's been fitted for pads and helmet, weighed in, and Smith says at 285, about 15 to 20 pounds heavier than when he last played in 2015.

"It's a very fit 285," Smith proudly says.

McCarthy agrees.

"He's in a great physical shape," McCarthy says. "I think it's going to be exciting to see him get out there for the first time. He's bigger and stronger than he was when we had a chance to compete against him when he was with the 49ers when obviously playing at an elite level. It's going to be exciting to see him get on the field and get back into it.

"He's in a great place and very thankful for him being part of the Dallas Cowboys."

Slavin marvels how stronger Smith has grown.

"Coach Tucker called me after his first workout with Aldon, and he was like, 'Ron, I had a pad in my hand and every time he was striking me with his hands with pass rush moves, I felt like I was getting hit by a frying pan,'" Slavin said. "So, I'm telling you guys he's different.

"I mean 42.5 sacks in 43 games (first three seasons) wasn't for naught, and people will say, oh, that was five years ago. But there is just certain - I mean, I represent Adrian Peterson - there is just certain guys, it doesn't matter their age, they can just keep coming, their work ethic and their strength, and all of those types of things just never go away."

This all gets us to this point. He's been reinstated by the NFL. He's with the Cowboys. He's training hard.

Now, he's got to do it.

But if you had listened to him for nearly 20 minutes Friday afternoon, never ducking one question about his past - the drinking, the suspensions, the alleged domestic abuse that's been disputed - you, too, would say darn it, here's to pulling for Aldon Jacarus Smith, most likely on his last chance in the NFL.

Says he began to find his way this past year when his grandma, Julia Edwards, the person that had always been in his corner, passed away suffering from ALS.

"I remember the last time we spoke," Smith says, grandma telling him, "just do better and to go out and get what you deserve, and that stuck with me."

Maybe these are the landmines a young man can face when spending just three years in college, playing just two after red-shirting, and then hit the ground running in the NFL not quite 22 years old as a seventh pick in the NFL Draft. Then multiply all that with unmatched success those first three season with all those sacks, Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.

Smith describes it as being "a young 12-year-old, a young teenage boy in a man's body."

Maybe, just maybe that former youngster has grown into his man's body. Maybe into a man's mind, too.

"So I'm not trying to become a better person, I am becoming a better person," he says, adding, "the journey to becoming a better person isn't just so I can get back to playing football. I think that's something everybody should have, just to be a better person."

See what I mean?

And Glazer is right. You pull for him to historically jump-start his career. Not easy to be away from the game for 57 months if he indeed plays in the Cowboys' scheduled Sept. 13 opener against the Rams back in L.A., right where he began his long physical and mental recovery.

Do so, and he'll have a swarm of people who have been in his corner now trying to get on his sideline, giving new meaning to a homecoming.

Who knows, maybe it's because of growing older, but can't help but pull for this guy.

Maybe even you, too.

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