Cowboys hurting at tight end position

Updated: August 12, 2010, 8:52 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Injuries, including losing three tight ends, will force Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips to play his starters a little more than he wanted in the team's second preseason game Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders.

The Cowboys have just two healthy tight ends -- Jason Witten and DajLeon Farr, who was signed Tuesday. Fullback Chris Gronkowski has gotten some reps at tight end the last two days, and he could fill a void on a limited basis.

"Certainly tight end is a concern for this ballgame," Phillips said after Wednesday's walkthrough practice at Valley Ranch. "After Witten goes out we have only one tight end available to play and he got here [Wednesday]. So DajLeon Farr will be playing a lot of the game and we have to make a lot of adjustments and you'll see in the game the adjustments we made."

No. 3 tight end John Phillips suffered a season-ending knee injury -- a torn ACL -- and Kevin Brock, another backup at the position, injured his ankle in Sunday's preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. In addition, No. 2 tight end Martellus Bennett missed the game with an ankle injury, suffered before the start of training camp.

The Cowboys waived Brock on Wednesday to clear the way to sign Farr, who was released by the San Diego Chargers last week.

The Cowboys are being cautious with Bennett as he recovers from his ankle injury. He has practiced and reported some soreness but is fighting through it.

Rookie linebacker Sean Lee, the Cowboys' second-round pick, will not play as he's still recovering from a strained quad. Guard Montrae Holland (hamstring), wide receiver Dez Bryant (ankle), tackle Alex Barron (ankle and finger), tight end Scott Sicko (concussion), safety Pat Watkins (knee), cornerback Cletis Gordon (neck), defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (groin), defensive end Marcus Spears (knee), safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (shoulder) and linebacker Stephen Hodge (knee) also will miss the Raiders game.

"We will play our starters more than we did, but it's not going to be a full half or anything like that," Phillips said. "And I do want to watch the young guys and the new guys and the guys who are improving, because we had quite a few of them that did well [vs. the Bengals]."

Besides the issue at tight end, the Cowboys also have lost two returners to injury. In addition to Gordon, Titus Ryan suffered a broken thumb and was waived Wednesday. Kevin Ogletree and Manny Johnson might fill in on kick returns. Bryan McCann, who returned to practice Wednesday after suffering a bruised chest vs. the Bengals, might return punts if healthy.

The Cowboys conducted their first outdoor practice of training camp Wednesday in temperatures nearing 90 degrees. Several players looked worn down and just happy to get inside an air conditioned locker room.

"It's to test your concentration," Phillips said. "You need to get out in the heat some. I wouldn't want to be in it every day. ... We work on focus. You need to learn how to do that whether it's weather, crowd noise, whatever, that's what we want."

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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