'Boys CB Jenkins practices, RT Smith watches with Jets on tap

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins returned to practice Thursday, one day after limping off with a knee injury, and appears likely to play in Sunday night's opener against the New York Jets.

As for rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, who also hurt a knee Wednesday, the outlook is less clear.

Smith suited up, but he only watched as Jermey Parnell and several other linemen auditioned for his job in case he doesn't heal quickly enough to start.

"I think he's doing better," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He responded well to the treatment. We'll just evaluate him as the week goes forward. Jenks was a little more active, but, again, it's a day-to-day situation."

Dallas' offensive line already is breaking in a seventh-round pick at left guard as well as a second-year center who only has played the line in two NFL games and is coming off a knee injury that knocked him out of the last two preseason games. Even if Smith had been healthy, there was no telling what to expect from a 20-year-old rookie, except that hopes were high for someone who was the ninth overall pick in the draft.

But now Smith either will be hobbling or missing. His replacement would be Parnell, a football novice, or another interior lineman who gets asked to play outside. Garrett said right guard Kyle Kosier and backup guards Derrick Dockery and David Arkin all received work at right tackle Thursday "in some way, shape or form," either with the starters, the backups or the scout team.

Parnell is a former college basketball player who spent only one season playing football -- and spent it on defense. He was switched to offense while with the New Orleans Saints' practice squad in 2009. He's yet to play in an NFL game.

"You certainly see the athletic ability, the arm length, the foot quickness," Garrett said. "It's pretty obvious to see his physical traits, and that's one of the reasons we were attracted to him. But what you need to see is some football instinct, some football savvy and some understanding about offensive and defensive schemes. And then at the end of it, you need to see some compete in him. I think he's gotten better in all of these areas. ... It's a process for a guy like that. It's really a process for every young player."

Garrett said he has "no hard and fast rules" about whether or not Smith must practice again before he can play.

"We just want to make sure he's making progress," Garrett said. "We understand how quick and fast a game is in the NFL, so we want to make sure everybody is physically ready to play."

Smith's age and inexperience make him vulnerable to some of the same growing pains as Parnell, although he's far more polished after starring at USC. He also has shown the work ethic and toughness to perhaps return quickly. Garrett said those traits were part of the reason Dallas took Smith so high; he's the first offensive lineman Jerry Jones has ever drafted in the first round.

Tight end Jason Witten, who often lines up next to Smith, said he has seen the same tenacity and toughness from Smith that he has seen in other great linemen.

"The guy just comes to work every day, keeps his mouth shut and works hard," Witten said. "He fights through it every day. ... Obviously we're a lot better with him in there."

Jenkins said his injury was nothing but a scare.

"It was just football, a little injury," he said. "I got it checked out. I'm ready to move on. I'm good to go."

Jenkins missed the entire preseason with a neck injury. Fellow starting cornerback Terence Newman missed the preseason with a groin injury that probably will keep him out of the opener. He didn't practice again Thursday, and Jones already has said he doesn't expect Newman before Week 2.

"It looks like he's moving around a little better," Garrett said. "We'll have to see how he responds to the work he did today. We'll continue to evaluate it up (until) game time."

Newly signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson didn't practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury. Tight end Martellus Bennett also didn't return to practice because of a high ankle sprain.

Wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) and center Phil Costa (knee) also were listed as limited participants.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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