Jaylon Smith missed the entire 2016 campaign but returned to the field during the preseason, during which the Dallas Cowboys protected their second-year linebacker to ease him back.
Heading into the opening week of the regular season, though, team owner Jerry Jones expects a larger role for the middle linebacker.
As noted by Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, Jones said in an interview on 105.3 The Fan that he anticipates Smith will play more snaps than he did in the preseason.
Smith logged 12 plays against the Indianapolis Colts followed by 16 opposite the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys’ final two games of the preseason. He notched four tackles in the limited action.
It’ll be tougher to hold Smith back now, however. Projected starter Anthony Hitchens will be sidelined for an extended period. Nevertheless, the coaching staff must control the desire to significantly increase Smith’s workload before he’s truly ready.
Justin Durant will occupy a larger role until then. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, though, “then” might not happen this season. Smith is still recovering from an ACL injury that also included nerve damage.
Dallas will steadily push Smith, and hopefully that means he’ll be a larger part of the defense as the season progresses. But rushing him into a featured role could lead to a major setback.