Strong First Impression

You have to forgive Rob Petitti if he seems to have a chip on his shoulder. He doesn't appear to; he's as nice and funny and softspoken as anyone who looks like a Humvee in a helmet can be.

But as excited as he is to be embarking on what he hopes is a lengthy career, he is eager to prove some people -- every NFL executive who passed him up in the draft -- wrong.

The Cowboys drafted Petitti in the sixth round -- several rounds later than many predicted he would be chosen. The first Pittsburgh lineman since Ruben Brown to earn all-Big East honors in consecutive seasons, Petitti was expected to go as high as the third round.

"The draft was rough," Petitti said. "I watched the whole thing, and it was rough. I was a little upset. But then, when I got drafted by the Cowboys, I knew that this was the best team for me to play for."

There is speculation that Petitti slid in the draft because of concerns over his ability to control his weight (if not because of a turf toe injury he suffered as a senior). There's no way to call Petitti anything other than what he is: huge. At the Cowboys' rookie mini-camp, Petitti was listed as carrying 340 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame -- and that's a drop from years past.

"I played the last two years at Pitt at 360," he said. "But wherever they want me, that's where I'll be."

That's the attitude head coach Bill Parcells wants to hear, having mentioned after the first day of practice that -- like defensive lineman Marcus Spears, Petitti needs to keep his weight in check. As large as he is, Petitti already is working on it.

"I played the last two years of college at 360," he said. "I think they want me to be able to move a little more. If they say I need to lose more, I'll lose more."

Petitti already has shown his ability to move … off the field. Already he has moved friends and family back home in Sampson, N.J. to switch their allegiance from the New York Giants to the Cowboys.

"When I got drafted, about 50 Giants fans became Cowboys fans," he said. And he's shown similar quickness in his ability to shift his own allegiance.

"I grew up a big Notre Dame fan," Petitti said. "Then I went to Pitt, so now I hate Notre Dame. Same deal -- I grew up a Giants fan, but now I'm a Dallas Cowboy, so I hate the Giants."

Petitti said he doesn't know yet what his exact role will be, and that at the moment, he's not worried about it.

"(The coaches) have said they need some help on the offensive line, but that's all they said," he said. "I'm not worried right now about starting. I need to make the team first, and show them that I'm a good player."

One person -- one very important person -- at Valley Ranch already noticed Petitti's performance at the Cowboys' mini-camp. After the first day of mini-camp, it was Petitti -- not first-round selections DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears -- whose name was the first Parcells mentioned.

Cautioning that it was way too early to be predicting the fortunes of a group of rookies who had been with the team for exactly 24 hours, Parcells nevertheless cited his rookie offensive tackle as a player who made a good first impression.

"Rob Petitti -- there's a guy," Parcells said, "with a real chance to play."

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