Jaylon Smith will not practice or play for Cowboys this season

The Cowboys opened the practice window for linebacker Jaylon Smith earlier this week, creating optimism that the highly touted second-round pick could play this year.

The reality is, he will not. Nor will he practice.

By activating Smith off the non-football injury list this week, Dallas was merely keeping its options open for the do-it-all linebacker from Notre Dame, who is trying to recover from a brutal knee injury. The nerve damage he suffered means no one actually knows when he'll return to the field.

According to a source with knowledge of his physical state, Smith is still waiting for his nerve to "fire" or return to normal. "We don't know when it will," the source said.

Eleven months into rehab, Smith has had no setbacks. He's in good shape, he's doing well, he's continuing rehab. But he won't practice this season, even though he is eligible.

As a source explained, the activation doesn't change anything. His pay remains the same, because the Cowboys paid him his full salary on the NFI list, which is customary but not required. The team has 21 days to put him on the active roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve. The Cowboys will keep him in rehab.

Owner Jerry Jones underlined the unpredictable nature asociated with injuries that involve nerve regeneration.

"We're very pleased with where he is right now with his strength and all the other things," Jones said this week on KRLD-FM in Dallas. "We're just hoping to see it continue to improve. But nobody knows, no medical people, know when that might occur."

That's the consensus. Smith is making great progress with what he can control, but it's the nerve aspect of the injury that is causing frustration.

The Cowboys took Smith in the second round, perhaps the only other team besides the Patriots willing to do so. They felt comfortable with Smith's knee, in part because team physician Dr. Dan Cooper performed the operation to repair a torn ACL and LCL. That fact made teams uncomfortable in trying to learn Smith's condition pre-draft, wondering if they could call another team's doctor to find out the status of a draft prospect.

In the end, the Cowboys decided to use an early-round draft pick on Smith. They love everything about him. It remains to be seen if Smith's selection -- and patience -- will pay off for them.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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