IRVING, Texas – Three players returned to the practice field in limited roles Monday, just one day before the Cowboys need to make personnel decisions to get the roster down to 75 players.
Morris Claiborne, Cole Beasley and Ernie Sims all returned to the practice field, but minor injuries continue to pile up, including ones to Mackenzy Bernadeau, Jason Hatcher and Danny McCray that kept that trio out of practice Monday. The more injuries that exist, the more difficult it will be for Cowboys coaches and staff to figure out their final roster moves.
Thursday's final preseason game is sandwiched between Tuesday's roster cuts and Saturday's roster cut down to 53 players. The Cowboys need enough healthy bodies to get through Thursday's matchup without using the starters, and with injuries on both sides of the line, it's possible the team decides to keep backup players it normally wouldn't if the team were healthier.
Beasley knows how crucial it is to stay on the field in his circumstance, as the Cowboys start to figure out their final 53-man roster. Little injuries aren't so little this time of year.
"I want to be back as soon as possible," Beasley said. "To me, I'm still a free agent trying to make the team, so I want to get out there and play this last game."
All three players who returned to the field also have something to prove this year.
Claiborne's entering his second season and needs to make strides from his rookie year. Beasley's still working to demonstrate his value to an offense out of the slot is worth keeping around, while Sims changed the opinions of many early in camp with a strong start after joining the team midway through the 2012 year.
Sims said he participated in just the first half of practice, while Claiborne said he mostly did running and cutting on the side. Beasley was also limited with his foot injury, but the receiver expects to work on team drills tomorrow.
"Hopefully it feels good tomorrow when I get in there and start getting back to full speed with the team and stuff, because it's going to be a lot different, just with cuts, not knowing when they're coming, reactions and stuff, so we'll see how my foot goes through there," Beasley said. "Hopefully that'll be all right so I can play Thursday."
Sims also wants to get some reps in Thursday's preseason game against the Texans to get back in football shape for the season. He said his groin felt fine on the field Monday, even though the coaches and trainers cut back his practice time.
"I missed two weeks already, so come Week 1, it's going to be extremely fast," Sims said. "I just want to get back out there and just get my wind back up, see how it feels to play when I'm a little exhausted, and just get back into it."
Claiborne isn't as anxious as the other two about returning for Thursday's game.
The starting corner said he's been running and cutting on the side of the field the last couple days and feels much better than he did last week. He said he doesn't think reps in Thursday's game would be that important, since Houston won't have its starters in, but he knows he'll be ready for the opener against the Giants.
"I'm just going with what the coaches tell me," Claiborne said. "They want to see me go in and get snaps, I don't have a problem with it. Also if they want to rest me more, I don't have a problem with that."
Head coach Jason Garrett doesn't think the three new additions to the injury report are anything serious. The team elected to rest Bernadeau (ankle), Hatcher (groin) and McCray (hamstring), rather than have them push themselves too far with the opener in the near future.
Hatcher's hurt his groin two or three times in his career, and he knows rest is the only way to get healthy. He doesn't want to still feel groin pain against the Giants.
"If we had to play in a couple of days, I could, but why take a chance at ripping it and then I'll be down for a couple more weeks," he said. "We're already short up front as it is."
Hatcher referenced the injuries to Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff and said he expects Spencer to return soon. Spencer's now able to run following his minor knee surgery and said he's more hopeful right now that he'll be ready to play in the opener than he was a week ago.
"We're working toward getting ready for that opener, doing a couple running things right now, a little bit of change of direction," Spencer said. "We'll see how it is Monday and go from there."
Another player who may not see much of the field before the Giants game is guard Ron Leary, who owner/general manager Jerry Jones expects to start Week 1. Leary said the goal is to get back for the opener, and he's glad the injury wasn't more serious.
"That feels good coming from Jerry Jones, the head man, but it's "ifs," Leary said. "I've got to get out there to prove him right."