The Surprise FIVE

practice squad. But if Leo Carson's knee keeps flaring up, forcing him to miss a few practices here and there, it only gives Johnson more reps and more opportunities to move up a few more notches.

Rob Petitti: This might be Parcells' biggest surprise because no other player seemingly went as far as Petitti has in the last seven months. The Cowboys saw the rookie tackle weigh in at 361 pounds at the Senior Bowl, the day before he injured his toe and was sent home.

But they took a flyer on the former University of Pittsburgh starter, knowing he had some potential. Parcells also knows Petitti, a sixth-round pick, has some discipline. He gradually worked his weight down over the summer to 325 pounds, his reporting weight at the beginning of camp.

And it's only gotten better for Petitti, who now finds himself starting at right tackle. And it appears to be his job to lose after the recent news on Rogers, who will miss the entire season after he undergoes microfracture knee surgery next Friday.

Petitti, who started the preseason opener in Arizona, will likely play the entire first half against the Seahawks on Monday night. And this could be more than just one half of football. The Cowboys certainly are keeping their eyes peeled on available tackles in the free-agent market. But if Petitti can keep improving, it sounds as if Parcells would rather just stick with his young rookie as long as he can.

Tyson Thompson: Now here is a rookie who has already played a few games at Texas Stadium. Not that it improves chances of making the team.

Tyson Thompson is just trying to make it home.

The Irving, Texas product, who once rushed for an amazing 525 yards in a high school game for Irving High School, dreamed of one day playing for the Cowboys, the team he idolized growing up.

And after three weeks of training camp, Thompson is closer than ever. The speedy tailback might just be "uncuttable."

Ok, that's not even a word, but can they really cut this guy? Sure, Parcells would answer an emphatic "yes" right now. He certainly doesn't want to see any regression from Thompson.

This rookie does have a somewhat sketchy past that includes an arrest in 1999 for allegedly stealing weights from his high school, a charge that was later dropped. And after he failed to qualify into TCU, Thompson's collegiate road included stops at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and then San Jose State, where he played only one year before coming out after his junior season.

While he's only played one game so far with the Cowboys, he rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries, using nothing more than pure speed to the outside. You can bet he'll get a few more inside runs this week against the Seahawks to see if he's not a one-dimensional runner.

The Cowboys have some depth at tailback with Julius Jones, Anthony Thomas and Marion Barber all figuring to make the team. But if Thompson can keep progressing, and maybe show a little more on kickoff returns, the Cowboys might just have to make some room for him, too.

Jay Ratliff: After four players were taken in the first round, including three in the first nine picks, not another University of Auburn player was drafted until the Cowboys grabbed Ratliff in the seventh round. That day, the defensive end admitted he felt snubbed and vowed to prove his worth once the pads came on.

Well, he's doing just that.

Ratliff has been active in both the scrimmage and especially in the preseason opener against the Cardinals. He played the 3-4 defense in college and has experience at both end and tackle, although the Cowboys are keeping him at end right now.

When first-round pick Marcus Spears went down with a sprained MCL after just a week of practice, it opened the door for Ratliff, who immediately went to the second-team defense and hasn't looked back.

In fact, Ratliff has shown even more versatility in practice with the Cowboys using him sparingly as a goal-line tight end for blocking purposes.

Right now, it looks like Ratliff will make it. Of course, we're only 25 percent completed in the preseason. Anything can, and likely will, happen between now and the end

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