Jaylon Smith has been under a great deal of scrutiny all offseason. The amount of attention he has been receiving will only increase in light of the injury sustained this past Saturday by teammate and fellow linebacker, Anthony Hitchens. In that exhibition against the Oakland Raiders, Hitchens suffered what was initially feared to be the dreaded tear of the ACL but is actually a fracture of the tibial plateau in his right knee. Nonetheless, it will require at least eight weeks of recovery time, so Hitchens will be out of action for the time being.
This unfortunate set of circumstances does, however, open the door for the possibility of more playing time for the highly touted Jaylon Smith. But with the recent addition to the roster of 11-year veteran linebacker, Justin Durant, Stephen Jones was guarded in talking about the potential of moving quicker than anticipated with Smith’s playing schedule.
“We’ll stick with our plan with Smith,” Stephen, stated after the injury to Hitchens.
“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.”
Jaylon Smith, though, feels like he is ready to take on a bigger workload.
“I feel very comfortable out there,” he said. “I feel like myself.”
Smith, who was the winner of the 2015 Dick Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker, suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee during Notre Dame’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of that season. The contest, wherein Smith was forced to make his untimely exit from in the first quarter, wound up being his last college game before he entered the draft.
Now, in the wake of the loss of Hitchens, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seems to have a different plan than his son as it relates to Jaylon smith. Jerry’s thinking has the young linebacker possibly seeing more work than he would have gotten if Hitchens were healthy.
“I think the start word is one I’d be careful with,” Jones said when speaking with the media. “It could be, but it definitely will cause him to have an accelerated approach to how this year starts for him. So, yes I think it’s going to be more activity, more snaps for him right off the bat.”
While Jerry spoke of possibly moving things along faster for Jaylon Smith in the wake of the injury to Hitchens, Stephen still wants to be careful as to how much and how quickly Smith gets integrated into things. Stephen is clearly more behind the idea of staying with what has worked for Jaylon, in terms of reps and playing time so far.
“We don’t in any way want to get away from the game plan that has worked so well for Jaylon, in terms of his pitch counts and what he’s going to do and don’t want to jeopardize anything that we’ve done with him,” Stephen said, before adding “But, we do think he can certainly share those duties with Justin, and expect both of them to share that Mike position.”
Prior to his injury, Smith had been one of the top prospects in the draft. So much so that the Cowboys still spent a 2016 second-round pick on him in spite of knowing how unlikely it was he’d play as a rookie. Not only were his chances to get on the field his rookie year slim to none, there were doctors who speculated that his career may have been in serious jeopardy.
Smith has stuck to the schedule and appears ready to play. Whether or not he is will depend on game action. As of right now, he has only played 28 preseason snaps, but if he does see an increased work load with the Hitchens injury, it will be interesting to see whether he’s able to live up to the hype machine that’s been around him all offseason.
[Featured Image by Tom Pennington/Getty Images]