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Stephen Jones: Injury to Anthony Hitchens won’t change plan for Jaylon Smith

Oakland Raiders v Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 26: Jaylon Smith #54 of the Dallas Cowboys walks on the field after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Oakland Raiders 24-20 during a Preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 26, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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The Cowboys fear they have lost Anthony Hitchens to a torn anterior crucicate ligament in his right knee. An MRI on Sunday will provide the definitive answer, but owner Jerry Jones acknowledged, “I don’t like the way it sounds” after speaking to the team’s medical personnel postgame.

Hitchens was slated to start at middle linebacker, with Jaylon Smith entering the season as his backup.

Thus, the question becomes: Now what?

“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.”

Smith played four more snaps than he played in his preseason debut last week, getting in 16 plays against the Raiders. He made three tackles, including one for loss.

“I feel very comfortable out there,” said Smith, who used last season as a redshirt after tearing ligaments in his knee in his final game at Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 2016. “I feel like myself.”

The Cowboys signed veteran Justin Durant on July 20, and although he hasn’t played in the preseason, Durant insists he will be ready for the season opener. He and Smith likely will split reps in the middle.

“We’ve brought Durant along slow and just wanted him to really get in shape, get him healthy,” Jerry Jones said. “He came into camp in better shape than at anytime we’ve seen him, and so he’s ready to go. I’m glad he’s ready to go, too. We’ve got a couple young guys here that will get a shot at this, so we’ll take a look at that if in fact it turns out to be the season [for Hitchens].”

Versatile linebacker Damien Wilson, who starts on the strongside, faces a potential suspension for an offseason arrest.