We already knew that running back Darren McFadden would be returning to practice after spending Week 1-11 on the Non-Football Injury list. We now have updates on tight end James Hanna and linebacker Jaylon Smith as well.
Despite doubts that go all the way back to the NFL Draft, the Cowboys have never closed the door on Jaylon Smith playing this year. This move allows them to keep the door open for a little while longer.
For both Smith and Darren McFadden, returning to practice now starts a three-week window where they can work towards returning to active roster. They can practice with the team without counting against the 53-man limit. If they aren't able to play after 21 days, then they must be released or placed on Injured Reserve.
Jaylon Smith continues to work his way back from a major knee injury suffered in Notre Dame's bowl game last January. If he can play this year, the rookie could be of immediate help to a linebacker corps that doesn't have much talent after Sean Lee.
As for James Hanna, the move to Injured Reserve is disappointing after he signed a three-year contract to stay with Dallas. Considered the best blocking tight end on the team, Hanna was poised to be Jason Witten's backup and perhaps finally get involved more in the passing game. A knee injury kept him out of the Cowboys' training camp and has finally led to surgery.
Given other injuries at tight end, Dallas must have had no reason to think Hanna would be able to recover this year. Geoff Swaim was just lost for the year, leaving Gavin Escobar as the only experienced backup. They just called up Vince Mayle, a converted wide receiver, to fill Swaim's roster spot.