"We've Got to Open Lanes for Julius"

IRVING, TX - Questions about the back and hamstring injuries that bothered new (to Dallas) RG Marco Rivera need not be asked … at least according to Rivera.

"Done -- I don't even want to think about it," Rivera said as the Cowboys gear up for their season opener Sunday at San Diego. "That's been a thorn in my side."

Just days after signing with the Cowboys, Rivera suffered herniated disk in his back while working out, prompting the veteran blocker to offer to return his signing bonus to Dallas owner Jerry Jones. Instead, he underwent surgery to repair the problem.

Then, during training camp, Rivera strained a hamstring, an injury that often stems from over-compensation for back injuries. Rivera insists that in his case, the two are not related. Now, as he gets ready to suit up for his first game as a member of the Cowboys, he suffers no ill effects from the injuries that kept him out of much of training camp.

"(The back and hamstring) really don't bother me at all," he said, "other than the normal body soreness. But there's nothing that's got me running into the training room to tell them about. I feel good. I feel about 100 percent."

As he gears up for his 10th season, Rivera's roles, as he sees them, including protector for QB Drew Bledsoe, lead blocker for RB Julius Jones, and now mentor to rookie RT Rob Petitti.

"I'm sure he'll have some butterflies, but he's really doing a pretty good job," Rivera said. "Every now and then he's got a question, and that's what I'm there for. But he's played well (in the preseason). He knows what we need him to do. I'm very comfortable playing next to him. He's going to be a very fine player in this league."

His more visible roles, of course, involve protecting Bledsoe and opening up running lanes for Jones, who Rivera said stands on the cusp of stardom.

"We've got to open lanes for Julius, but he doesn't need a lot of space," Rivera said. "He's a special kind of back. I watched him a little last year, and he even makes guys who are unblocked miss." At this stage of his career, Rivera insists, first-game butterflies simply aren't an issue.

"I've been preparing like I'm just playing the San Diego Chargers, which I am," he said. "It's my first game as a Dallas Cowboy, which is nice, but none of that matters unless we go out and execute our gameplan."

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