The Dallas Cowboys are hoping less means more for linebacker Jaylon Smith.
With Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens healthy together for the first time this season, Smith saw his snaps go down, playing 32 of 75 plays against the San Francisco 49ers. In the first five games of the season, Smith played at least 64 percent of the snaps in each game, including every snap (69) in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Against the 49ers, Smith was credited by the coaches with seven tackles, and he had the first sack of his career, which also led to a forced fumble.
“Just physical play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He was around the ball, getting off blocks, making hits on the runner. He played with a great spirit, too.”
Smith said it was “different” to not play as much, but the Cowboys’ plan for him all along was to move him along slowly after he missed his rookie season with a serious knee injury that included nerve damage that left him with a case of drop foot. While the nerve regeneration has been better than some thought it could be, he was still dealing with a long layoff from football.
Without Hitchens for the first four games because of a tibial plateau fracture and Lee missing two games with a hamstring strain, the Cowboys had to lean on Smith more than they wanted.
“Attacking a new role,” Smith said. “But my job is whenever I get in to make a difference and make a play, be very impactful to our defense. And it’s something that I’m accepting.”
Smith rotated with Hitchens at different times against San Francisco. The Cowboys took Lee out of the game in the fourth quarter because of a quadriceps bruise, but they don’t believe it will affect his availability for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
“It’s a great feeling when you get a chance to learn behind some guys who’ve been in those situations and did well,” Smith said. “And it’s something that I add a little piece to it as well, being able to contribute at a high level.”