Backing Up Into Issues

the Cowboys gave Ferguson a break in Saturday night's game, Ayodele again worked with the first team.

"He played well when he was in there," Phillips said.

He's quick, Phillips said. Smart, too. And you can tell, he has a high motor, a necessity at nose tackle.

Cornerback: The third guy is Aaron Glenn - still at age 35. He's still the nickel corner and Phillips said he's also one of the dime corners.

"He did a good job in the game," said Phillips, referencing Glenn starting at left corner in place of Terence Newman, who was held out to rest an aggravated heel. "He's a great pro - always ready and you know you're going to get your best from him."

All the others are trying to earn the fourth and possible fifth spot.

Defensive End: Jason Hatcher has returned to practice, and before hurting his hamstring in training camp the second-year end from Grambling State was starting to assert himself. He practiced in the shells workout Tuesday, and Phillips said he likely will play Saturday night in Houston, and that's good because the Cowboys can use another end in the backup mix with Jay Ratliff and Stephen Bowen.

Offensive Tackle: Right now, the front-runner for the all-important third spot is Pat McQuistan, and that guy must be able to play both sides if you are only going to keep seven offensive linemen active on game day - assuming you have a backup guard/center. The other guy in the mix would be Doug Free, recovering from a sprained MCL, and probably at least for another week. He seems to still be ahead of James Marten.

Inside Linebacker: Oh brother, did you see Kevin Burnett Saturday night? The guy was a playmaking dude when he got in there fulltime in the second half. The official scorecard has him down for four tackles and one pass broken up. A couple of those tackles were jaw-jarring. Evidently, the coaches had him for six total tackles and one pass broken up in 33 plays. Just ask him. That's a pretty good participation ratio, if you figure you're making a play one out of nearly every five.

So is Burnett surprised to be making such a noticeable transition from outside linebacker to inside?

"If you tell me to go out there and play football, that's what I'm going to do," Burnett said. "I'm a great athlete. I can play any position on the football field. It doesn't matter to me where. If they say go make the play, I make plays.

"Tell me what to do, and I'm going to do it."

And so he has adopted the nickname of "Big Time," and he says all he needs is time on the field to make big plays. He's starting to get that time, not only playing as the backup inside linebacker, but also getting on the nickel next to Roy Williams at one of the two linebacker spots.

Burnett has two years left on his contract. This could be a breakout year of sorts, one which helps him erase that "bust" tag seemingly following the 2005 second-round pick. That is, if he gets the "time" on the field.

Fullback: Hard to pick a backup when you're not sure just who the starter will be. So far, it's been Hoyte, although he missed Saturday's preseason game with a stinger suffered in practice against the Broncos but was back in practice Tuesday. That got Polite and Anderson onto the field for about a half each against Denver. Polite blocked well on two touchdown runs. Anderson is proving to be a willing and punishing lead blocker. Special teams might decide which two make the team. Anderson was working with the first unit on kickoff returns. He's a fearless special teams player. This will be a tough call.

So really, that's about it, and over the next two weeks the Cowboys must decide on numbers, like how many to keep at each position. Do you keep two quarterbacks and hope to re-sign one to the practice squad, or do you keep three and not chance losing Matt Moore at this point? Do you keep two fullbacks or three, which is tied to keeping either two tight ends or three? Do you keep six wide receivers or can you somehow qualify seven? Three running backs and like nine or 10 offensive linemen would seem reasonable.

Defensively, probably six defensive linemen, like eight or nine linebackers and either nine or 10

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