A year ago, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith sometimes showed the talent that made him one of the best linebackers in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Smith recorded 99 tackles and was impressive at times for the Cowboys, despite still battling back from injury. Now it appears he's fully healthy.

The Colorado Buffaloes are paying attention, because the devastating knee injury suffered by Smith during his final game at Notre Dame in 2015 is similar to the injury that CU offensive lineman Jake Moretti had during the summer of 2016, just before his senior year at Pomona High School.

Like Smith, Moretti tore his ACL and stretched his peroneal nerve. He also dislocated his knee. It's the nerve issue that has led to Smith and Moretti spending so much time battling back.

"It's tough," Moretti said. "Sometimes I wish it was just the ACL, but it's the cards I'm dealt and I just have to make the most of it. The toughest part has just been the time period, because with the nerve you don't really know. The training staff and the strength staff have been awesome in helping me get through it."

Watching Smith's recovery should give Moretti and the Buffs some hope.

Although Smith missed the entire 2016 season, he played in all 16 games last year. He was unable to play full-time, however. Because of his nerve damage, he dealt with "drop foot," which means he had a difficult time lifting the front part of his foot. He needed to wear a brace on his foot to hold it in proper position.


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"We called the Dallas Cowboys," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Jake is wearing the same exact type of brace. We had those people come in, talk to us and work with us."

Smith is now playing without the brace and told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram this past weekend, "I just feel like myself."

Moretti is still getting there.

Like Smith, Moretti has star potential, but is dealing with good days and bad days as he recovers.

The Dallas Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith suffered an injury similar to the one CU’s Jake Moretti is recovering from. Smith missed the entire 2016
The Dallas Cowboys' Jaylon Smith suffered an injury similar to the one CU's Jake Moretti is recovering from. Smith missed the entire 2016 season because of the injury, but played in all 16 games in 2017. (Andy Cross / THE DENVER POST)

"There's some days that are great, some days that are a little tougher than others," Moretti said. "(Co-offensive coordinator/line coach Klayton) Adams and coach Mac, they're all doing a really great job with helping me out.

"It's one of those things, it's up and down. Right now it's been feeling good for most of camp, so I'm optimistic."

Moretti lined up at left tackle with the first and second-team offenses during an open scrimmage on Saturday. The Buffs were impressed with his play, but realize the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder has to be limited right now.

The fact that Moretti keeps attacking his recovery with a good attitude has impressed MacIntyre.

"I never have seen him hang his head," MacIntyre said. "He's learned a phenomenal life lesson at a young age that I know I would have had an extremely hard time handling.

"His perseverance and his attitude and his tenacious love for wanting to play the game, our kids see it. They're excited about it and him getting to play, too, and they see how good he is."

Just how good is Moretti? Ask his coaches and teammates and they almost all raise their eyebrows and give that "wow" look.

"To me, there's some guys that have that it factor," MacIntyre said.

That "it" factor is what led Moretti to being highly recruited out of Pomona and originally committing to Ohio State. Several months after the injury, he elected to play at CU instead.

After sitting out the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Moretti said being at CU and on the field is a blessing.

"I'm lucky to be out here on a football field right now, so I'm just trying to cherish the moment," he said. "Just getting back here, it's been a long road, so I'm just trying to enjoy it all."

Moretti and the Buffs are hoping he can follow in Smith's footsteps and eventually feel like himself. So far, the signs point to him being on that path.

"I'm excited about it," MacIntyre said, "but I'm also a little bit cautious and try to keep him be a little bit cautious so he doesn't get his hopes too high. He's going to play this year, but I don't know how much right now, and neither does he. But, he'll be out there."

Notable

MacIntyre said freshman Clyde Moore decided to leave the team for personal reasons and return to his home in California. "Right now, I don't think he'll be coming back, but sometimes that changes," MacIntyre said. Moore's departure leaves CU with 82 scholarship players, but because Moore did participate in some practices, the Buffs cannot use that vacated scholarship for another player . So, technically, the Buffs have 83 scholarships accounted for at this point. ... After reviewing the film of Saturday's scrimmage, MacIntyre said he noticed a few deep passes that would have been sacks if defenders were allowed to hit quarterbacks. "I see our pass rushing picking up," he said.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33