The return timeline for Dallas Cowboys starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens continues to get better.
Immediately after Saturday’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys feared he may miss the entire season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Then an eight-week timeline was given to him after he was diagnosed with a tibial plateau fracture.
Now, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday, the Cowboys feel Hitchens could be ready before eight weeks, executive vice president Stephen Jones said.
“My goodness, so thrilled for him personally,” Jones said at the Cowboys kickoff luncheon Wednesday at AT&T Stadium. “Had an amazing training camp and now to know thaht he’s going to get back on the field sooner than later. Obviously we feared the worst and it’s one of those few times when it turns out better. More than anything, we’re happy for Hitch. He has been one of the leaders and certainly had, in my mind, had one of the better training camps of any player we had on our team.”
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Jones didn’t specify a new timeline for Hitchens to return.
“I think it could be reduced on that [eight week projection],” Jones said. “We’ll see.”
That could mean the Cowboys will carry Hitchens on their 53-man roster to start the season. An option is to place him on injured reserve, but he would not be eligible for game action until Nov. 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Cowboys will have to make that decision by Saturday when the roster is trimmed from 90 to 53.
Either way, Hitchens will miss the early part of the season. That means Jaylon Smith and Justin Durant will fill his void at middle linebacker in the meantime.
The Cowboys feel confident in them to do the job.
As linebacker Sean Lee said, “We pride ourselves in our room. We think we have a deep room with guys who work hard and play the right way. So I think they’re going to be able to step up. I think we have a room who can step up.”
Hitchens isn’t an easy guy to replace, though. He started every game last year and was credited with 104 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback pressures. He has played in every game of his three-year career, starting 36 of the 48.