<
>

Williams' appeal to be heard Wednesday; Romo's thumb feeling better

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo took it easy on his bruised right
hand Tuesday, throwing nothing more than lobs during practice.
During all his down time, he might have gotten a good laugh by
looking at the merry-go-round playing out in the Dallas Cowboys'
secondary.

On one play, suspended-but-appealing safety Roy Williams was
with the first team, with backup Keith Davis right behind him.

On the next play, Davis was with the first team, with Williams
waiting in the wings.

Williams was told Monday that he has to sit out Dallas' game
Saturday night against Carolina as punishment for his third
"horse-collar" tackle this season. He appealed Tuesday and a
hearing was set for Wednesday. While the delay gave his defenders
more time to prepare their case, it left coach Wade Phillips with
less time to prepare his defense. He's already hampered by a
shorter-than-usual week.

"We're in a little bit of limbo here," Phillips said. "We
just need to get it settled."


This practice was only a walkthrough as Phillips didn't want to
push his players too hard two days after a game. Tuesday is
normally their day off.

Romo was limited because of an injury to the thumb on his
passing hand. He didn't take snaps and might only take them out of
the shotgun Wednesday, even though he'll likely have a new center.
Starter Andre Gurode hurt his left knee and probably won't play
against the Panthers.

Romo didn't speak to reporters Tuesday, but he was seen after
practice with his right hand wrapped with ice and a stimulation
machine.

"He said he felt better," Phillips said, adding that the
bruising and swelling had gone down.

Tight end Jason Witten has no doubt Romo will play Saturday.

"Oh yeah," he said. "He's really tough. I'd be shocked if he
didn't."

Romo, Witten and Gurode were among 11 Cowboys chosen Tuesday to
the NFC Pro Bowl roster. It tied a team record and was the most
among all NFL clubs. Dallas has seven starters and four backups,
including Marion Barber, who doesn't even start for the Cowboys.

Phillips called the Pro Bowl announcement a nice mood-lifter for
a club dealing with injuries, the Williams suspension and lingering
disappointment from a 10-6 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Dallas already has locked up a first-round bye, but no longer
has a cushion over Green Bay in the chase for home-field advantage
in the playoffs. The Cowboys and Packers are both 12-2, although
Dallas holds the tiebreaker. Still, the Cowboys must win the last
two games to guarantee themselves the No. 1 seed; otherwise, they
may face a trip to Lambeau Field in late January.

Thus, the trip to Carolina is no longer playing out the string.
Dallas also wants to get back to playing at a high level, something
it hasn't done the last two games. Phillips' challenge is to figure
out how to do that while also trying to set up contingency plans at
so many positions.

Besides Williams, Romo and Gurode, Dallas probably will be
without Pat Watkins, a backup safety and special teams standout,
because of an ankle injury. Then there's Terry Glenn, who hasn't
played all year because of two knee operations but is close to
returning.

Williams has known since early October that another horse-collar
might cost him a game, which could explain why he was angrily
bouncing up and down after being flagged for doing it again Sunday
against Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb.

Then again, the violation is known as the Roy Williams Rule
because it was put in following his takedown from behind of
Terrell Owens in 2004. Owens broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments on that
tackle.

Since the move was outlawed, Williams has been fined $10,000 in
October 2006; $12,500 in September and $15,000 in October. He also
was told the last time that if he did it again, he might be fined
and suspended. This suspension, if upheld, would cost him his
weekly salary of $35,000.

"He's been given so many warnings, plus the rule was put in
place for him," Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton said. "That'd be
a red light flashing in my head."

Williams' defensive teammates were far more supportive, saying
the tactic is far less dangerous than cut blocks that are legal for
offensive linemen.

"It's a dumb rule," linebacker Akin Ayodele said. "It
handicaps him being an aggressive safety. He sees someone running
by him, what's he supposed to do? Stop? It's a split-second
decision."

Linebacker Greg Ellis said it's wrong for the league to take
away a starter for a game that has playoff implications over
something like this.

"Obviously I'm biased, but if it was another team, I'd say
that's a bad way to enter a critical game off a guy trying to be
aggressive and trying to make a play," he said.

Phillips tried to avoid giving a direct opinion, but made it
pretty clear he doesn't like the rule or the ruling. He also noted
that McNabb wasn't hurt and that none of the other people Williams
has taken down this way the last two years have been, either.

"Roy's been in on 105 tackles now and three of them have been
on that variety," Phillips said. "Where is the line as far if you
hit them too hard or have a helmet to helmet -- are we going to
suspend them? ... But we have to go by the rules, whatever those
rules are. They've been basically fining people to keep them from
doing these things. They evidently thought it got to the point with
Roy where they felt like they needed to do more."