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COWBOYS' OFFENSIVE LINE BEING DEPLETED BY INJURIES

The Cowboys are no longer worried about depth on the offensive line because there isn't any.

When the Cowboys practice today, they will have only seven healthy offensive linemen.Erik Williams is unavailable. His projected return to practice is a week away. Larry Allen won't be there. He sprained a toe in Saturday's 27-14 exhibition loss against the Oakland Raiders. Ray Donaldson is the only center able to practice. Backups Dale Hellestrae and Mike Gruttadauria are injured, as are Jerry Reynolds, John Jones, Jim Hmielewski and Shane Hannah.

It was just days ago that the Cowboys were awaiting the arrival of now-retired Derek Kennard and the depth he would have brought to the offensive line. And their losses mounted Saturday.

Several players went down with injuries that will keep them off the practice field. But the biggest loss might have been Kennard, who retired Saturday.

Until Williams returns, Ron Stone is back in at starting right guard and Allen moves from tackle to guard.

"We're back to where we were a year ago now that Ron Stone will be our sixth man," Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said. "I think we're better than that with Erik coming back. At the time that we feel ( Williams) can play the game again, Larry Allen will be the guard, which will make us better than we were a year ago. Then Stone is back at the sixth-man spot - tackle and guard."

To put together a practice squad today, Switzer said rookie Mu Tagoai will work out at center. There are no plans, the coach added, to put 6-foot-1, 300-pound tight end Kendell Watkins on the offensive line.

"He's got to learn to play tight end," Switzer said. "He's so compact and little. You need massive people in there. I just don't see him in there, because there are massive people lined up across from him. We can't experiment with Watkins."

SUBPAR EFFORT: After watching a videotape of Saturday's game, Switzer said he had no explanation for the play of the Cowboys' first-team defense.

Switzer said linebacker Godfrey Myles had a "mental bust" on the first play of the game, a 9-yard Oakland gain. "He was supposed to contain, and he went up inside our defensive end," Switzer said. "The back bounced outside, and we had no support."

Another mistake - playing the pass instead of the run in the Nickel formation - led to a 16-yard Raiders gain on the same drive.

On the next drive, which resulted in an Oakland touchdown, cornerback Larry Brown was beaten by Raghib Ismail for a 41-yard gain.

"We told (Brown), `They're going to try to throw deep on you,"' Switzer said. "If Larry had been watching the receiver instead of looking at the quarterback when he faked the pump like he was throwing the short route . . . He bit on that, and the guy ran by him. It happens to all corners. It happens to everybody."

Switzer said he was pleased with the play of safety Brock Marion and defensive ends Shante Carver and Hurvin McCormack.

"Right now (Marion) is playing the way we want a safety to play," Switzer said. "He's playing with confidence. He's playing as a leader. He's making the calls and making the checks. He's doing everything to make our coaches feel that we'll have a lot of confidence in his play."

Carver and McCormack, Switzer said, are doing more than just filling in for the departed Jim Jeffcoat.

"Those two guys are playing better at this time than Jim Jeffcoat was last year in all phases," Switzer said. "Jim was just really basically a pass rusher in the Nickel pass package. These guys are every-down players."