By Mike Fisher

OXNARD, Calif. (105.3 THE FAN) – Jaylon Smith’s “baseline’’ has risen to the point that “he can play football,’’ Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said on Monday after the middle linebacker once again participated in practice.

But that doesn’t mean Jaylon Smith is actually playing football this week.

“We are seeing how he progresses,” Jones said. “No need to jump ahead and make a decision whether it’s this week or next week. We will see how he progresses this week and see how he responds. … The time will come when we decide, ‘Has he had enough to put him in a game situation against the Rams?’

Jones insisted that Smith regenerating nerve in his left leg is healthy enough to allow him to participate in a real game, something the former Notre Dame standout hasn’t done in 19 months since a devastating knee injury. And Dallas’ schedule offers such an opportunity. Smith didn’t play in the preseason opener in the Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals. But the second preseason game is against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, so …

“If you left it up to him, he would be going every play in the Hall of Fame Game,’’ Jones said. “We have to protect Jaylon at the end of the day for Jaylon. He is going to around here for many years to come. We have to handle it the right way for Jaylon. … Jaylon is going to be around here for the next 10 years and we don’t want to do anything that’s not taking care of Jaylon.”

Jones claims Smith’s biggest hurdle is potential “fatigue.’’ That is an enormous development – if true.

“His baseline is where he can play football,” Jones said. “Now we have to ease him into it because … when you don’t have a muscle that has nerves to it as long as his did then it fatigues easier. You have to build that up over time and build it the right way so you don’t have any issues there.’’

There remains a brace serving as a “fake ankle’’ and there remains drop foot, so there are other issues here, and other unknowns. But the Cowboys are believers … and Jones said it’s mostly now about “football shape.’’

And eventually, Jaylon Smith needs to play in a game to know what that even is.

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