IRVING, Texas – For a position that's seen plenty of fluctuation this season, the constant game of shuffle for the Cowboys' linebackers looks no different in the playoffs.
Injured rookie Anthony Hitchens was one of the biggest absences at Wednesday's first practice for Detroit, as he twisted his ankle in Sunday's Week 17 win against Washington. As Hitchens sat out, Rolando McClain – who missed the regular season finale with an illness – returned to the practice field.
Those are just the noteworthy items among the starters. New linebacker signee James Anderson underwent his first practice with the Cowboys on Wednesday, as the team signed him due to injury issues with Hitchens and Dekoda Watson.
"He's a veteran who has played a lot in this league and we have some issues at linebacker with injuries – Anthony's status, Dekoda's status and whether or not those guys are going to be available," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "So we just felt like he worked out well, we wanted to bring him in here and see if he could get acclimated as quickly as possible.
There's been enough switching among the linebacking corps, it's no surprised someone can get lost in the shuffle. It's been weeks since Watson was anything but an absentee, but the veteran linebacker returned to the practice field on Wednesday – the first time he has practice since injuring his hamstring against New York on Nov. 23.
There were fewer surprises on the offensive side of the ball, as the Cowboys' personnel remained relatively unchanged. Doug Free was absent from the practice field to start the week – the third-consecutive week since he injured his ankle in Philadelphia. Garrett said Jermey Parnell has handled himself well in his extensive work during Free's absence.
"We just have to see what Doug's health is. He's going to try to some work today. We'll see. We're not going to put him in there before he's ready to play," Garrett said. "Jermey's played very well for us. He's stepped in and he's tough and he's done a good job as a run blocker, done a good job in protection."
DeMarco Murray, who has dealt with a broken hand and bouts with illness in the past two weeks, practiced with the team Wednesday. Tony Romo sat out of the Wednesday session, as has been his routine all season.
Images from Wednesday's practice at Valley Ranch.