Rookies Starting to Pay Dividends

While the growing pains can be tough to watch at times, the Cowboys are starting to see the real benefit of playing so many rookies. Not only have the Cowboys won consecutive games for the first time, the team is getting a evaluation of 13 rookies, 6 of them starters.

"The young guys that are playing are the guys who are going to be the future," said coach Dave Campo. "It's not like we're just throwing guys in there. They are growing with the offense and growing with the defense."

Safety Roy Williams, the first-round pick in April, has started every game. Chad Hutchinson, the 25-year-old rookie who missed four football seasons while pitching in professional baseball, replaced Quincy Carter as the starting quarterback five games ago.

Williams has been all that the Cowboys had hoped from only the second player they got in the first eight picks of a draft since defensive tackle Russell Maryland was No. 1 overall in 1991. His 91 tackles are third-best on the team and he has three interceptions.

But Williams is only one of five picks from last April's draft _ considered the best for owner Jerry Jones without former coach Jimmy Johnson at his side _ to become starters for the Cowboys. Hutchinson signed as a free agent three months before the draft.

Receiver Antonio Bryant was thrust into the starting role when Raghib Ismail suffered a season-ending neck injury late in training camp.

His 488 receiving yards are the most among NFL rookie receivers, but he has had just eight catches (two for touchdowns) in the last six games while splitting time with veteran Darnay Scott.

Andre Gurode, a guard at Colorado and like Bryant a second-round pick, was the first rookie to start at center in a Cowboys season opener.

After missing the first two October games with a sprained toe, he returned to the lineup at guard on a line shuffled by injuries.

Tyson Walter, a sixth-round pick, replaced Gurode at center and has started four straight games.

Third-round pick Derek Ross has started seven games at cornerback, including the last four after two games on the bench. Ross has three of his five interception since, including 13 tackles against Indianapolis.

Williams has been a hard-hitting playmaker who proved to be a good compliment to five-time Pro Bowler Darren Woodson.

And the rookie safety has stepped up his game since Woodson was lost for the season with an abdominal muscle injury three weeks ago.

All three of his interceptions have come in the last three games, including one he returned 5 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown in a 27-20 win over Washington on Thanksgiving Day.

"Consistently now, he's doing the right things, and we had hoped that would be the case," Campo said.

Hutchinson has started the last five games, and won consecutive starts, something Carter did only once in his 15 games.

Hutchinson also threw for 301 yards against Jacksonville, the most by a Dallas rookie since Troy Aikman set the club record with 379 in 1989, and is 73-of-135 (54 percent) for 930 yards with five touchdowns. His only two interceptions came in the 21-19 win over the Jaguars.

"The things that I like about him, he has toughness and smarts. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and he doesn't make the same mistakes twice," Campo said. "He doesn't allow adversity to get him. He can't wait to get back in the game after he's made a mistake, he wants another shot at it."

"He's doing what we are asking him and he's making progress."

Rookie cornerback Pete Hunter, the fifth-round pick, has become a regular part of the secondary since Woodson was hurt. He spent the first half of the season bouncing between inactive status and special teams.

All three of the Cowboys kicking specialists are also rookies: placekicker Billy Cundiff, punter Filip Filipovic and long snapper Jeff Grau. While Cundiff and Filipovic have both struggled with consistency, Campo likes the potential of the young kickers.

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