Giants’ Jaylon Smith could already see expanding role

It appears to be difficult to wipe the smile off of Jaylon Smith’s face right now.

The linebacker the Giants signed off the street last week as a COVID-19 replacement for their game against the Cowboys, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2016 and that released him earlier this season, has a new lease on his professional life.

Smith, who played 17 defensive snaps and had four tackles (three solo) against the Cowboys, called the Giants bringing him in “a blessing.’’

He said he was working out in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., when the Giants, strapped for defensive players, called him last Friday to play in a game two days later.

How was he able to do it?

“I’m a pro,” Smith said. “I’m a pro’s pro, a guy that’s always going to be prepared and ready for the opportunity, so that’s really what it was. I’ve been playing this game since I was 7 years old.’’

Jaylon Smith at Giants practice Thursday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

When asked how he felt he played, Smith said, “I did well,’’ adding, “There’s so much more to improve, and that’s the focus this week, getting the playbook all the way down and getting ready to get after the Eagles this weekend.”

Smith, 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, impressed the Giants coaches with his performance on such short notice Sunday.

“You saw the pace in which he played,’’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said Thursday. “I remember one time last week when he came off the edge blitzing, you just saw the pace at how he did it. I was impressed by that. He knows football. He’s been on good teams, been around good coaches.’’

Graham indicated that Smith may be in for more snaps Sunday.

“Whenever you play well, your role expands,’’ he said. “The more he knows about the system and the scheme, which you give him another week, the more possibility for him to play more.’’

Smith’s career path has been turbulent. He was considered a lock to be a first-round draft choice before tearing two knee ligaments playing for Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The Cowboys drafted him early in the second round and Smith sat out his first pro season rehabbing his knee.

In 2019, he had 142 tackles and was voted into the Pro Bowl. Last season, he had a career-high 154 tackles, including 24 in two games against the Giants.

But Smith was released by Dallas this season and played two games for the Packers, who released him on Nov. 2.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Smith said. “I’m a guy that I’ve been through so much, nothing can stop me. I’m a guy that’s going to continue to work, continue to learn. Just a humble servant. But a guy that’s young (26) and got a lot of ball left playing at a high level. It was a blessing to be able to show that versus the team that drafted me last weekend. Now, it’s just about moving forward.”

Smith got his chance with the Giants with linebackers Oshane Ximines and Cam Brown placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

On his second snap against the Cowboys, Smith tackled running back Tony Pollard after a 2-yard gain on a short pass.

“Being able to make a dynamic play on my second play out there, it’s just a great opportunity getting a chance to hit somebody,’’ he said. “It just happened to be my former teammate and that was a good thing. I got up a little rowdy. All respect though. All respect.”

Smith is wearing a No. 45 jersey, the number brother, Rod, wore for the Giants as a practice squad running back in 2020.

“It’s a blessing being able to wear my brother’s jersey,” he said. “It’s all in the family.’’

The Giants activated three players, including rookie WR Kadarius Toney, off the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday. Toney, who had quad and oblique injuries before going on the reserve list, has not played since Nov. 22 at Tampa Bay and is not likely to play Sunday.

Kadarius Toney
Robert Sabo

Wide receiver coach Tyke Tolbert, when asked if he had hope Toney will be able to play against the Eagles, said, “I’ve got my fingers, toes and eyes crossed that he’ll be ready to come back.”

Toney is more likely to return next week.

The other two players to come off the reserve-COVID-19 list were Ximines and DB J.R. Reed. Other players on that list, CBs Adoree’ Jackson, Aaron Robinson and WR John Ross, have a chance to come off the list Saturday.

G Ben Bredeson (ankle) was the only Giants player to miss practice Thursday. Rookie RB Gary Brightwell, who didn’t participate Wednesday, worked on a limited basis.

The six players who were limited Wednesday were also limited Thursday — RB Saquon Barkley (ankle), TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle), FB Cullen Gillaspia (shin), DL Leonard Williams (triceps), T Andrew Thomas (ankle) and DL Austin Johnson (foot).

Giants head coach Joe Judge began Thursday’s practice by playing the Eagles’ fight song, “Fly Eagles, fly,’’ on the sound system.