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Jaylon Smith returns to start for Cowboys in preseason 19 months after knee injury

Jaylon Smith suffered a devastating injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. Now he’s finally back and played well as a starter.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It has been 596 days since Jaylon Smith suffered a knee injury to end his college career and Saturday he returned to play football for the first time.

The Indianapolis Colts struggled to do anything offensively with Scott Tolzien under center, so there weren’t many snaps for the first-team Cowboys defense, but Smith stood out in his limited time on the field.

He penetrated and forced plays elsewhere, but his play of the game was his only tackle and he was fired up to get it.

Smith, 22, last played football in January 2016 when he was a consensus All-American at Notre Dame. He was primed to be the first linebacker taken in the 2016 NFL draft, but suffered tears of his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl — which was his final collegiate game.

The nerve damage from the injury was so severe that there were questions whether or not he’d ever play again, but the Cowboys rolled the dice and took Smith in the second round.

Smith didn’t appear in a game as a rookie, and now — more than a year and a half after suffering the injury — he’s finally on the field in a Cowboys uniform.

He’s unlikely to be the starter in the regular season with Sean Lee ahead of him on the depth chart, but his return to the field is a story all its own.