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From Cowboys to Packers, from Apples to Oranges for Jaylon Smith

Jaylon Smith will have to learn the Green Bay Packers' defensive playbook on the fly and in bite-size pieces.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Before new Green Bay Packers linebacker Jaylon Smith can learn the playbook, he had to learn the identity of his coaches.

The head coach was easy. Matt LaFleur and Smith spent the 2014 season together at Notre Dame. The defensive coaches were another matter.

“For the record, I haven’t even seen Jaylon yet,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said at about 5 p.m. Thursday.

Speaking about a half-hour later, inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti bragged: “I’m ahead of Joe. I just met him.”

With the introductions out of the way, it will be up to Olivadotti to get Smith up to speed during the course of the season, with Olivadotti’s primary focus on the upcoming opponent. Veteran De’Vondre Campbell, who was signed in June, got to learn the scheme at a relatively leisurely pace through the training camp installs. There will be no such luxury for Smith.

The starting point is making sure everyone is speaking the same language.

“Football is football,” Barry said. “Cover-4 is Cover-4, Cover-3 is Cover-3. It’s the same no matter what playbook you’re in. But we might call it apples here, and in Dallas he’s called it oranges his whole time. So, you’ve got to transfer that over in your mind from a terminology standpoint.”

Olivadotti will work overtime with Smith, and the wonders of technology will allow Smith to learn from home. Moreover, he can learn the playbook in bite-sized chunks via the weekly game plan. In any given week, only a fraction of the playbook is on the gameday ready list. Smith can learn the plays for one week and then expand his knowledge week by week.

“It’s just immersing yourself in it, both players, coaches. Everybody involved has to get on board with that,” Olivadotti said. “There’s no doubt that that’s going to end up happening. But it’s definitely a process. I think experience does matter. Jaylon’s a guy that has a lot of experience, has played a lot of football, but it’s like learning a new language, it really is. I’ve coached in a lot of different systems, also, and that’s the learning curve is translating what used to be called this is now called that.”

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For Smith, the playbook is different, and the techniques and alignments will be different in some cases.

That’s a lot to digest in October but that’s life in the NFL. Time is of the essence, as new cornerback Rasul Douglas can attest.

A third-round pick by Philadelphia, he started 19 games for the Eagles from 2017 through 2019. At the end of training camp in 2020, he was released and claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. Exactly a week later, he was active for the season-opening game against Las Vegas.

“They basically told me, ‘You’re going to dress but you’re not going to really play.’ So, that was my goal,” Douglas, who has practiced the last two days after being grabbed off Arizona’s practice squad, said on Thursday. “I was just cheerleading at first until Donte Jackson messed his ankle up and Coach was like, ‘You’ve got to go out there. We don’t have anybody else. Go out there.’ He was like, ‘Just stay close to our sideline. Whenever they call a play in, just stay here and I’ll tell you what we’re doing.’”

Douglas played 51 snaps that day, then started the next five games until testing positive for COVID.

With the Packers’ depth at inside linebacker, there probably won’t be such a dire emergency that Smith will be forced to play 50-plus snaps next week at Chicago.

To be sure, Smith has a lot to learn, but that learning will be a two-way street.

Just how will Olivadotti utilize the former Pro Bowler?

“We’ll find out more,” Olivadotti said, “once we get our hands on him a little bit.”

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