Veterans starting to sweat?

SAN ANTONIO - As the Dallas Cowboys head into their first practice of the 2009 training camp Wednesday afternoon, the Alamodome will be filled with screaming fans and excited rookies, hoping to make an NFL roster for the first time.

But for every rookie who earns a roster spot, someone else has to lose a job. It's not the most pleasant aspect of training camp — at least for the veterans in question — but it's a fact of life. It happens every year, for every NFL team.

So which veterans are in danger of looking of finding themselves on the outside looking in?

LB BOBBY CARPENTER: The former Ohio State star has yet to live up to the expectations that go along with being a first-round draft pick, as he was in 2006. He has the pedigree for the game — his father, Rob, was a running back with the New York Giants under Bill Parcells — and he has the size (6-2, 250) and speed to handle the position. But he has yet to factor heavily in the Cowboys' linebacker rotation. Zach Thomas and Greg Ellis are gone, but barring injuries, their starting spots will go to Keith Brooking and Anthony Spencer, respectively. Dallas drafted three linebackers (Jason Williams, Victor Butler and Brandon Williams) this year, but none will earn first-round money. If it comes down to a neck-and-neck race, Carpenter might be the odd man out.

WR SAM HURD: Owner Jerry Jones said at Tuesday's press conference that his optimism about the wide receiver position stems, in part, from the fact that Hurd, "when healthy, can be a top receiver for us." Therein lies the key: when healthy. Hurd is a terrific athlete, and has good size at 6-2, 205, but has struggled to stay healthy. Assuming Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton are locks to make the team, it might come down to how many receivers Dallas decides to keep. Isaiah Stanback, another oft-injured wideout, but he's stronger and was a running quarterback at the University of Washington, so if the Cowboys decide to work the "Wildcat" formation into their offense, as Jones says they will, Stanback's ability to run it could give him the edge.

S PAT WATKINS: Since he was drafted in 2006, Watkins has tantalized his coaches with his unmatched combination of size (6-5, 215) and speed. What hasn't been so exciting, however, has been his inconsistency. He has the ability to make extraordinary plays, but also gets caught out of position and ends up chasing plays he should have broken up. It's unlikely he gets cut, because there's not a safety in the NFL with his height, reach and speed, and as coaches say, those are things that can't be taught. But he has to start making plays more consistently. The Cowboys have added a lot of players in the secondary — DeAngelo Smith, Mike Hamlin, Mike Mickens, Michael Hawkins, Gerald Sensabaugh, Jerome Carter, etc. — and while Watkins probably leads most, if not all, for a roster spot, he can't afford to have a bad camp.

CB ALAN BALL: Ball finds himself facing the same numbers crunch Watkins does. He's less expensive than Watkins, but also offers a little less. He has to stand out on special teams, and show he's worth keeping over at least one, and probably two, of the rookies.

LB JUSTIN ROGERS: In his first two years in the NFL, Rogers has been a standout on special teams, a versatile player who can line up on all special teams units. New England head coach Bill Belichick reportedly was pretty upset when he tried to slide Rogers through waivers to sneak him on to the Patriots' practice squad, only to watch the Cowboys snag him off waivers. Rogers is young, physical and versatile, but he also has battled knee tendonitis and has the misfortune of playing on defense behind DeMarcus Ware, meaning playing time is scarce, at best. All three of the linebackers Dallas drafted in 2009 are pass-rushing outside linebackers, and Jones will want to justify his choices by keeping as many as possible. Further adding to the list of reasons Rogers might be in trouble is that he is entering the last year of his first NFL contract, so if the team chooses to part ways with him, the salary cap implications will be minimal.

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