The Dallas Cowboys have brought linebacker Jaylon Smith along slowly, deliberately and purposely as he attempts to return from a devastating knee injury suffered in his final game at Notre Dame, sidelining him all of last season.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said a potential season-ending knee injury to starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens won’t change the team’s deliberate return plan for Smith.
“We’ll stick with our plan with him,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said of Jaylon Smith. “You don’t jeopardize a guy’s future over anything like that, but as you know, Jaylon’s coming along. The plan was all along was for him to be ready to play for the Giants. Now are we going to throw him in there for 60-something plays? I don’t think so, but a lot of that is just going to depend on what he’s ready for. My guess is probably not.”
Hitchens suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter of Saturday’s 24-20 preseason victory against the Oakland Raiders. The Cowboys fear it may be a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee but won’t know for sure until a magnetic resonance imaging exam is performed on Sunday.
Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft to be the team’s middle linebacker of the future. He took a redshirt season last year rehabbing from the injury, suffered in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State Jan. 1 2016.
The Cowboys have targeted Smith for action in 2017 but they have been deliberate in his return. They kept him out of the first two preseason games before letting him make his NFL debut with 12 snaps against the Indianapolis Colts last week.
They increased his work load with 16 plays against the Raiders on Saturday.
He made three tackles, including one for loss.
Smith said he feels good but he will remain loyal to the plan the Cowboys have laid out for him.
“It really was just a great opportunity to put some more things on film,” Smith said. “I felt very fluid out there and I’m ready to play some football. I feel like myself. I feel like myself and I’m out there moving fast. It’s just a great great opportunity to be out there.”