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Cowboys Expecting Deion, but Smith?

August 31, 1999

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ The Dallas Cowboys know they’ll have Deion Sanders back this season, maybe even in September. They’re not as sure about Kevin Smith.

Smith, who started at cornerback opposite Sanders most of last season, will be out up to six weeks while trying to rehabilitate a lower back injury.

His absence adds a bit of urgency to Sanders’ return from a severe toe problem. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday it is possible that Sanders will be ready for the Sept. 12 opener against Washington.

``I’m not expecting it, but it could happen,″ Jones said. ``I do like the progress he’s making. He’s doing some things to simulate coverage.″

Cowboys coach Chan Gailey said he’s pleasantly surprised by Sanders’ recovery.

``I guess anything Deion does should not surprise me, though,″ Gailey said. ``He has always gone above and beyond whatever was expected.″

A bye during the third week of the season helps Dallas ease injured players back into the lineup. The Cowboys play their third game Oct. 3.

Smith, who lost his spot as a starter late last year but was expected to open this year in Sanders’ place, is trying to recover from a bulging disc in his lower back that was discovered in June.

He felt strong enough to start training camp and play in the first exhibition game, but he’s been out ever since. He’s received three epidural injections to relieve the pain, yet is still ailing.

``He was not satisfied, and his doctor, a specialist he has, just felt like the risk wasn’t worth what he could gain by staying out of competition for four, five or six weeks,″ Jones said.

``It’s frustrating,″ Smith said. ``I just want to make sure it’s right.″

Smith rejected surgery for fear of it ending his season. However, it’s still an option if the therapy doesn’t work. Even if it does, Smith still might need an operation in the offseason.

``Hopefully the rehabilitation will be effective,″ Jones said. ``One of the things we didn’t want to do was get him out here early and basically start over again. This gives us the best chance of having him for as much of the season as he can.″

Kevin Mathis and Charlie Williams, who has primarily played safety the past four seasons, will start in Thursday night’s exhibition finale against Jacksonville and in the opener unless Sanders returns.

Jones said the Cowboys have enough room under the salary cap to sign another cornerback, but coaches have enough confidence in Mathis, Williams and their backups.

Jones said the Cowboys have enough room under the salary cap to sign another cornerback, but doesn’t expect to sign a veteran free agent. Part of the reason is their hopes for having Sanders.

``That’s our gut feeling,″ Gailey said. ``Unless we see something that changes our mind, I don’t think we’d be in the market for getting an experienced corner right now.″

The other cornerbacks on the roster are undrafted rookie Duane Hawthorne, who has drawn praise throughout the summer; Zebbie Letheridge, who spent last year on the practice squad; and LaDouphyous McCalla, a rookie free agent from Rice.

``I like the guys we have,″ Gailey said. ``But from a depth perspective, it’s a little bit tenuous.″

Cornerbacks Terry Billups and Kevin Brooks were among 10 players cut Tuesday.

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