Fighting For Jobs

With NFL teams set to trim rosters from 80 to 75 players next Wednesday, Saturday's game against the Houston Texans amounts to a high-pressure audition for a number of Dallas Cowboys hoping that they'll still be on the team when the regular season begins next month.

Coaches around the league talk about this week's exhibition games as being "the most important" and a dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener, but rest assured, even if key starters like quarterback and Tony Romo and Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware play about a half Saturday against the Texans, what they show on the field will be a very watered-down, vanilla version of what the Cowboys throw at the Washington Redskins in the 2010 opener.

Some position battles will last until the final roster cutdown Sept. 4, but some will be decided tonight. Some battles worth watching:

Sam Hurd vs. Jesse Holley
The common thinking is that the top three receiver spots are absolute locks, with Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Dez Bryant assured of roster spots, and Patrick Crayton appearing more and more likely to stick around as the team's fourth receiver. If, as many expect, Dallas keeps six receivers, Kevin Ogletree's speed makes him a likely candidate to grab the fifth spot. So that leaves Hurd and Holley battling for the sixth spot.

The players are similar, including in the fact that they are the type of player teams seem to love having but often overlook until they are gone. Both are big (Hurd is listed at 6-3, 209, while Holley is listed at 6-2, 211) and strong. Neither has blinding speed, but both are willing blockers and capable receivers. Hurd has played a number of receiver positions on offense, and is an unsung hero on several special teams: Advantage: Hurd

Deon Anderson vs. Chris Gronkowski

Anderson has been a human bowling ball for the Dallas offense for three seasons since the Cowboys drafted him in 2007, opening running lanes for Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice while helping to protect quarterback Tony Romo. Gronkowski, an undrafted free agent out of Arizona, is not quite as powerful as Anderson, but has a few things in his favor: At 6-2, 245, he is four inches taller and five pounds heavier than Anderson; what he lacks in blocking technique he makes up for with versatile running and receiving ability; with the slew of injuries to tight ends, his experience as a college H-back allows him to fill more roles, if needed, within the offense.

Advantage: Gronkowski

Jamar Wall vs. Bryan McCann

The battle for the fifth cornerback spot appears to be coming down to two rookies: Wall was drafted out of Texas Tech, while McCann was signed as a free agent out of SMU. (If they somehow both make the team, it could get entertaining to spend their last Sunday before the regular season with these two, as their alma maters meet in Lubbock in the season opener for each team.) Wall is the stronger of the two, while McCann is faster. The team likely will carry just four cornerbacks, because safeties Alan Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah each have cornerback experience and could fill in if an emergency arises. But if they carry five, McCann appears to have the edge. He is better in coverage, and is more versatile, having spent one year at safety in college, and he returns punts and kickoffs.

Advantage: McCann

Junior Siavii vs. Josh Brent

The battle for the backup nose tackle job is not the most glamorous contest, but the team needs a backup for Jay Ratliff, arguably the best player in the NFL at his position. At 6-2, 315, Brent is three inches shorter than Siavii, and the same weight. Brent is quicker and more athletic, while Siavii's brute strength makes him better able to anchor the center of the defensive line and chew up blockers so the defensive ends and linebackers can get through and make plays. Siavii's experience might give him the edge, and if so, Brent is an ideal candidate for the Cowboys' practice squad.

Advantage: Siavii

Travis Bright vs. Pat McQuistan

At the beginning of the team's mini-camps and OTAs, the widespread belief was that Bright would be Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode's backup. But then head coach Wade Phillips announced that veteran guard Kyle Kosier could back up Gurode. To test that theory, Kosier started getting some reps at center, sliding Bright over to backup guard, which chipped into McQuistan's plays.

But Kosier is hurt, expected to return sometime in September, and the player who could end up affecting the outcome of this race is … undrafted free agent center Phil Costa. A mere afterthought when he was signed as a free agent out of Maryland, many expected Costa to be unemployed already. But Costa has proven to be strong, tough and have solid technique, both snapping the ball and as a blocker. If he shows he can play well enough to be at least an emergency backup, that might give Bright the edge over McQuistan, because Bright can play center and both guard spots, and on an offensive line that is in dire need of quality depth, that versatility could end up being the deciding factor.

Advantage: Bright

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