Cowboys' defensive shuffle likely to continue vs Packers

FRISCO, Texas (AP) - Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens practiced fully for the first time this season coming off a knee injury on the same day Charles Tapper broke a foot, likely the start of a lengthy absence for the defensive end.

Pass rusher David Irving is ready after serving a four-game suspension, two weeks removed from fellow defensive lineman Damontre Moore rejoining the team following a two-game ban.

Injuries and suspensions have meant little continuity for a unit that has been up and down through four games, and now looking at a few more changes going into a visit from Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.

"That's always something that's important, for guys to have the opportunity to get to play with each other and know each other that much better on the field," linebacker Justin Durant said. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse. You've got to know what you're supposed to do and make the calls and play with whoever we have."

All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee missed the 35-30 loss to the Los Angeles Rams with a hamstring injury, and the Cowboys (2-2) are optimistic he can play Sunday against the Packers (3-1) even though he missed practice Wednesday.

If Lee returns, he'll be the second veteran to miss one game with an injury. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick broke a hand in the opener and was sidelined for a blowout loss in Denver.

The defense had another slow start the next week in Arizona, then was strong in the second half of a 28-17 win. The opposite was in play against the Rams - good first half, bad second half , as in five straight scoring possessions for LA.

Hitchens had to watch the first four games after breaking a bone in his right knee in a preseason game. The fourth-year middle linebacker returned to practice last week.

"Every game there's one or two plays where a couple of guys are messing up," Hitchens said . "We've shown different spurts of playing first quarter, third quarter. But we've got to play a full four quarters if we want to win in this league."

If Hitchens returns, Jaylon Smith probably won't play every defensive snap, which he did for the first time in his career against the Rams. Smith is in his second season but missed his rookie year recovering a knee injury sustained in his final game at Notre Dame.

Through four games, Smith has been one of five first- or second-year players to see significant roles at some point. That includes rookie cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Both were plagued by hamstring issues in training camp, with Lewis missing the opener and Awuzie the past two games after aggravating his injury.

"Looking at the age, it's going to be some ups and downs," Durant said. "It's probably the youngest defense I've seen in a long time, a bunch of young guys with major roles. But they're playing well. They're getting better."

Safeties Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are among the most experienced players in the Dallas secondary, along with Scandrick. But both are first-time starters, and Heath missed a tackle on running back Todd Gurley's 53-yard touchdown catch that put the Rams ahead for good after trailing by 11 in the first half.

"We've all been here since the spring," Hitchens said. "We haven't added new guys. We lost a couple of guys. Since spring, everyone knows the defense. There shouldn't be excuses about who's in and who's not. We all know our jobs. We just need to do it for four quarters."

NOTES: Tapper, who missed his rookie season with a back injury, broke his right foot during practice Wednesday. He was in a walking boot in the locker room and could need surgery. ... Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith was new to the injury report Wednesday, listed as limited because of back issues. He battled back problems last year and in camp this year. ... CB Nolan Carroll (concussion) was a full participant.


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