FRISCO, Texas – While the big news surfacing around the Cowboys on Wednesday centered on the cancellation of Thursday's game with the Texans, the club did get some positive news in terms of a key defensive starter.
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who suffered a knee injury in last week's game with the Raiders, will not need surgery. MRI results did not show any ligament damage, meaning it's unlikely the team will place him on an eight-week IR list.
The initial diagnosis of a tibia plateau fracture and expected recovery of eight weeks hasn't changed. As it stands, the Cowboys could be hopeful to get Hitchens back on the field even before the Oct. 15 bye in Week 6. That's a much better scenario than immediately following the Aug. 26 game when the Cowboys feared a possible season-ending ACL injury.
While this will be a setback, the Cowboys have a few options to replace Hitchens in both the base defense and nickel. Veteran Justin Durant, who has not played in the preseason and has been working himself back to football shape and recovering from an elbow injury, will factor into the mix. Expect the Cowboys to have a rotation with Durant and Jaylon Smith.
Owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week the team is viewing Smith and Durant as "one player." It's likely that Smith could start in the middle and Durant play mostly in the nickel alongside Sean Lee, who is also the weak-side linebacker. Damien Wilson has been the starter on the strong side. If his off-field issues force him to miss any time, the Cowboys could go with Kyle Wilber at SAM as well.
But either way, it won't be easy to replace Hitchens, who had one of the more productive training camps of any player this past month. Despite swarming talks of Jaylon Smith's progress and his expected takeover at the middle linebacker spot at some point, Hitchens never seemed affected.
As he enters the final year of his contract, Hitchens is expected to be a free agent at the end of this season. Hitchens has never missed a game in his previous three years, and started all 16 games last year, totaling 104 tackles. He also posted a 100-tackle season as a rookie in 2014.