Commentary

Knee braces not an option for Cowboys

Updated: August 26, 2010, 2:59 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

OXNARD, Calif. -- An interesting question this week addresses the Cowboys' offensive line and how they've dealt with injuries to starters Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier.

In an attempt to prevent further injuries, head coach Wade Phillips has decided to make it mandatory for all the linemen -- on offense and defense -- to use knee braces.

By no means does this guarantee that a player can't get injured, but wearing a brace does stabilize the knee and minimizes the possibility of injuries occurring.

[+] Enlargeknee brace
AP Photo/Amy SancettaCoach Wade Phillips has brought back a rule from the Bill Parcells era making it mandatory for all linemen to wear knee braces during practice.

Colombo was wearing a knee brace when he heard something pop in his knee, which was some loose cartilage that has since been removed. Colombo told Jerry Jones a few days ago that his knee feels great, and Jones said the lineman's long-term health shouldn't be an issue.

Kosier, who doesn't wear a knee brace, injured his knee. Marcus Spears, who wears one at times, didn't have one on when he injured his knee in San Antonio.

So there is no clear-cut way to say whether a knee brace helps or not.

Several of the Cowboys' offensive and defensive linemen have had knee issues in the past, whether in college or the pros.

When Bill Parcells was the Cowboys' coach from 2003-06, it was mandatory for linemen to wear knee braces. Currently, the Dolphins -- where Parcells is vice president of football operations -- have made it mandatory for linemen to wear knee braces. And New York Jets coach Rex Ryan had made it mandatory for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who's coming back from offseason knee surgery.

When Phillips replaced Parcells, that rule became optional for Cowboys players. Some offensive linemen can't stand wearing them, because sometimes it keeps your leg stiff. Other players just find it uncomfortable and can't get used to it.

But now, if you want to play on Sundays -- or in this case, on Saturdays during the preseason -- you had better put the brace on.

Now to the mail.

Q: I know what everybody says about the Cowboys: They choke in the playoffs. How do you feel about them getting another ring? -- Ryan (Freeport, Ill.)

A: Dallas is one of the favorites to win the NFC East and make a deep playoff run. When Brett Favre decided to return to the Vikings this summer (it wasn't a surprise), it made the Cowboys' road in the NFC more difficult. The Cowboys have a talented defense -- and two excellent pass-rushers in Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware -- but there are questions about the running game and whether or not kicker David Buehler can make important kicks.

Q: Is there any chance, if Terrell Hudgins is released, he makes it through waivers and gets signed to the practice squad? -- Mitchell (Raleigh, N.C.)

A: Mitchell, I think the Cowboys will keep five wide receivers on the active roster. Hudgins is not one of them. He's got the next two weeks to show whether he's worthy of making the practice squad. Manuel Johnson hasn't been impressive this camp, but Jesse Holley has -- though he did struggle in last week's preseason game at San Diego. Hudgins needs to do some more work if he's going to hang around at Valley Ranch.

Q: Everybody is worried about the Cowboys offense scoring touchdowns. Any chance they are stalling drives to get David Buehler more field goal attempts? -- Adam Bush (Lathan, N.Y.)

A: The Cowboys are not stalling drives to get Buehler more attempts. Last week Buehler didn't have any because the Cowboys' first-team offense couldn't get in position to make that occur. When they did get deep into San Diego territory, it was the result of a turnover. I would like to see Buehler attempt more field goals in the preseason, especially the next two weeks, but coach Wade Phillips has already said the team has confidence in him.

Q: Why are the Cowboys starting Marion Barber? I am tired of this boring, predictable offense. Also, I think Tashard Choice will leave the Boys after this season. It's very sad to see this running back being wasted because Jason Garrett has no clue on how to run the ball. -- Larry Johnson (Aurora, Colo.)

A: Larry, Choice is signed through the 2011 season, so unless he's traded or released, he's not going anywhere. The Cowboys coaches believe Barber is the best of the three running backs, and that's why he's starting. I have this running joke with running backs coach Skip Peete about who will start. He tells me all the time that it doesn't matter because all three backs will get to play.

There have been formations in training camp in which we've seen Felix Jones and Choice in the backfield at the same time. Barber is going to start the games and, if the game is close or out of reach, they will use him to punish the defense in the fourth quarter. Expect Jones to get more carries this year. If that happens, expect good things. The Cowboys had the seventh-best rushing attack in the league last year and were third in the NFC.

Q: Calvin, great job here at ESPNDallas.com. Best thing ESPN ever did. Anyway, it seems to me these injuries to the Cowboys are getting a little out of hand. Half the offensive line is gone, and we just lost two more on defense for the rest of the preseason. When is this injury bug going to end and what effect will it have early in the season? These missed practices cannot be too good for the players. Also, will these injuries make the players more susceptible to getting hurt again once they do get back? -- Presley (Gate City, Va.)

A: You never know when the injury bug will strike or end. However, the Cowboys will be cautious with the return of several injured players. In 2008, Kyle Kosier re-injured his foot and was lost for the season. It was a freak thing, and he was completely healed from the previous injury. You never know. As for the current injuries, they give the Cowboys a chance to see young players such as Robert Brewster, Sean Lee and Mike Hamlin show what they can do. The Cowboys liked what they saw from Brewster in San Diego, and Wade Phillips said Lee was getting better as the game was going on. Hamlin will get a chance to show his skills Saturday versus Houston with Gerald Sensabaugh out.

Q: Hi Calvin, love listening to your "spots" on ESPN. With concerns at backup quarterback (Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee), why wouldn't the Cowboys consider looking at Jeff Garcia? I know he is older than both of the Cowboys backups, but he was far more mobile and accurate. At this point, I feel we would certainly be in jeopardy if Tony Romo went down, much like we were when Brad Johnson was around. Appreciate your thoughts. Thanks. -- Pam Clayton (Bedford, Texas)

A: About a month ago, I wondered why the Cowboys didn't try to sign Marc Bulger when he became free. He cost about $1 million more than Kitna. But after watching Kitna here in training camp, he's the best thing for this team. Garcia is done. Kitna was beat up when he got to Dallas after taking numerous sacks in Detroit. Romo is a very durable quarterback, and he fought though some injuries last season. If you worry about the backup quarterbacks, worry about McGee.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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