starter. Who knows if he will be back? Who knows if Pat Watkins can stay healthy? Who knows if Tra Battle or Courtney Brown or possibly even Alan Ball if he is moved from cornerback can provide some depth? But they need a guy back there to team with Ken Hamlin, and Sensabaugh is the most logical one, a potential free-agent sleeper.
LB Bobby Carpenter: It's time. Most will say it's past time for the 2006 first-round draft choice who has yet to shed that haunting "bust" label in the NFL. Even though the Cowboys did not have enough confidence in him to take over Zach Thomas' starting weak inside linebacker spot and signed the 33-year-old Keith Brooking, there still is a job out there for Carpenter: Replace Kevin Burnett on the nickel defense. Burnett has departed for San Diego in free agency, leaving a hole in the middle of the nickel, where at times he played along with starting inside backer Bradie James and at times in the middle by himself when the Cowboys employed two extra defensive backs on the nickel instead of just one. Carpenter showed late in his rookie season he has the speed and the range to work in coverage close to the line of scrimmage. Now he needs to demonstrate an ability to tackle and the instincts needed to play in space. Even though the Cowboys insist Brooking can be a three-down linebacker, how much better would it be if they could fill that spot on the nickel with a fourth-year player instead of a 12th-year player? Save drafting a linebacker with one of those first three picks, this likely will be Carpenter's best opportunity to earn a chance to contribute more than just on special teams - and quite possibly his last since dumping prorated signing bonus in the potentially uncapped 2010 season comes without sacrifice.
LB Anthony Spencer: Hmmm, another first-round draft choice. This one from 2007. So far Spencer has only teased us with glimpses of his potential. Now is his time. First he must stay healthy, and if he does, that should give him the opportunity to wrestle the starting strong outside linebacker job away from veteran Greg Ellis, who is in the last year of what became to him a troublesome contract. More and more last year Spencer was playing on first and second downs while the starting Ellis became a pass-rush specialist. The Cowboys sorely need Spencer's athletic ability - a combination of strength against the run yet enough speed to cover or rush the quarterback - on the field the majority of the time. But it will be imperative he first becomes a dependable run stopper on the strong side to earn that job. Not in any way to suggest this isn't, but succeeding in football must become a priority in his life . . . now.
WR Miles Austin: If the restricted free agent didn't understand how important clicking this season is for him, and that should be since this is his contract-drive season - then take your pick, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones or Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips have made this abundantly clear ever since taking two Excedrins to that Terrell Owens migraine. Not only does Austin at least need to become the team's viable third receiver, but it's time he makes a push to compete with Patrick Crayton for the second spot opposite WR Roy Williams. The Cowboys have spent three seasons grooming what had been a highly inexperienced but athletically-gifted rookie free agent from Monmouth University. As with Spencer and Carpenter and Jenkins, it's time - and not just to be a threat on those deep posts because of his speed but to become a complete receiver, capable of running all the routes needed to complement Williams. Opportunities for guys entering the league through the backdoor don't arise regularly. Austin's has. Now he needs to seize the moment.
So here are five, and maybe the top five, but not the only five. There is pressure on a few more guys to come through for the Cowboys to succeed this season, such as guard Kyle Kosier, whose injury-caused absence at left guard last year seemed to create a massive void on the offensive line. Sure wouldn't hurt if Montrae Holland, acquired for a 2010 fifth-round pick, pushes Kosier for the starting job. And speaking of the