Cowboys' Anthony Hitchens has tibial plateau fracture, not torn ACL

The good news for the Cowboys? Starting linebacker Anthony Hitchens didn't tear his ACL on Saturday night against the Raiders, as the team had feared. The bad news? Hitchens suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee and will need eight weeks to recover, according to ESPN's Todd Archer

The Dallas Cowboys defense is not off to a good start to the 2017 season, to say the least. Dallas lost several players from last year's unit during free agency (Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Terrell McClain) and saw several players (David Irving, Damontre Moore, possibly Damien Wilson and Nolan Carroll) get suspended for various reasons throughout the offseason. 

Then, in their penultimate preseason tuneup, Hitchens went down with what appeared to be a serious and possibly season-ending knee injury. 

According to an initial report from NFL Network, the Cowboys believed Hitchens tore his ACL. 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reserved judgment on what the injury is when asked about it after the game on Saturday night, but he did not sound like his usual optimistic self. 

"I don't want to go there," Jones said. "All I know, though, is I don't like the way it sounds. They'll take a look at it again tomorrow. If it were going to put him down, it'd be an ACL tear. I'm Dr. Jones reserving opinion on this. I didn't see anything. They just told me they wanted to look at it tomorrow."

Even fellow starting linebacker Sean Lee seemed resigned to the fact that Hitchens may be out for quite a while. 

"We'll rally around him, you know he's such an unbelievable football player" Lee said. "It's going to be a big loss if he is out for a certain period of time but we have guys in the room ready, prepared. ... We'll have to step up if that's the case. ... Hitch is one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL."

Whatever the case with Hitchens, the Cowboys are not going to rush second-year linebacker Jaylon Smith into a larger role than they had originally planned. Stephen Jones, Jerry's son and the Cowboys' executive vice president and COO, confirmed that the plan for Smith will stay the same. 

That means Justin Durant, who has spent three of the past four seasons working as a rotational linebacker for the Cowboys, will likely step in as the starter in the middle. With Wilson potentially facing suspension for his alleged assault earlier this offseason, the Cowboys' linebacker corps is thinning out pretty quickly. It would be a great boon for them if Smith could become a high-quality player, but he's not likely to be a major contributor in the early part of the season so they'll need Durant to step up. 

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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