Safety Aaron Rouse, who missed last season's prime-time game at Dallas as a rookie because of a knee injury, will likely get the starting nod Sunday against one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
Starting strong safety Atari Bigby sustained a hamstring injury Sunday at Detroit toward the end of the first half attempting to break up a pass intended for wide receiver Mike Furrey in the end zone, and was unable to return.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday he didn't think Bigby would be able to play against Dallas, and that Rouse took the majority of the reps with the first unit in practice.
"You are always taught to be ready in this business," Rouse said. "You never know when it is your time to be out there, and when the time comes you've got to step up.
"We're playing the Cowboys, Sunday night, a prime-time game. Who wouldn't be excited? I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go out and start and have a big game."
It won't be Rouse's first chance to start, as he opened three straight games as a rookie in '07 when starting free safety Nick Collins was sidelined with a knee injury.
During the three-game stretch last November, Rouse posted interceptions in back-to-back games vs. Carolina and at Detroit before sustaining a knee injury of his own in the second half against the Lions that sidelined him for the Dallas game.
"I thought he was very productive," McCarthy said. "Very productive in his opportunities that were given to him last year.
"He competed throughout training camp. He's played two games so far this year, played very well in the first game, had some bumps in the road in the second game. He's getting more experience, but he's shown the ability to be very productive when he is out there."
Those bumps in the road against Detroit when Rouse took over for Bigby included touchdown passes of 38 and 47 yards from quarterback Jon Kitna to wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the fourth quarter as the Lions came back to take a 25-24 lead midway through the final stanza.
McCarthy said Monday that Rouse made some mistakes with alignments and tackling angles on a couple of the Lions' big plays, but added that it was an experience the young player could learn from. Rouse was also playing with a sprained ankle that he sustained in last Thursday's practice.
"Obviously when you come into a game and have a full week to prepare, it's going to help you out for the game," Rouse said. "You have a lot more time to study their offense and study their tendencies, and I should be better prepared for the game on Sunday."
If Rouse does indeed get the starting opportunity Sunday, it will come against a potent offense that includes perennial Pro Bowlers such as wide receiver Terrell Owens and tight end Jason Witten.
"They have a lot of weapons," Rouse said. "When you are playing a good team such as the Dallas Cowboys, one of the main things you want to be is disciplined.
"It's not all about just going out there and trying to make plays. One of the main things is know your role, know your responsibility, and keep to it."
Back on the line
Center Scott Wells (back) and rookie guard Josh Sitton (knee) returned to the practice field Wednesday after missing the first two games.
Wells played in only one preseason game, at San Francisco, but re-aggravated the back injury against the 49ers and missed the rest of the preseason. Sitton sustained a sprained knee at Denver in the third preseason game and has been sidelined since.
"I would say Scott is ahead of Josh as far as being ready," McCarthy said. "I didn't watch them specifically, but Scott went through the flow of practice at a good pace. It's really Josh's first time back, so I would probably better answer that once I watch the film."
Both players were limited Wednesday, and McCarthy said he wants to see how Wells feels after going through padded practices Wednesday and Thursday. Even though the offensive line has been forced to do some shuffling since training camp because of injuries, McCarthy said Wells could play Sunday.
"We're going to take in all of the information, and these three practices will be part of it," McCarthy said. "It's important to keep all of those guys involved. Scott has played a lot of football for us, so if we like what we see, it is definitely an option for him to play."
McCarthy and the rest of the staff had an opportunity to work with several Cowboys last season as they coached the NFC team in the Pro Bowl.
McCarthy joked that "half of our team was the Dallas Cowboys" as Dallas sent a league-record 13 players to the all-star game in February.
"I think any time you have an opportunity to work with someone, it isn't like we went out there and went through two-a-day practices or anything like that," McCarthy said. "It was more of, it was family first, football was second, to be honest about it.
"They're very good football players. They were a good bunch of guys to be around, too. You can see why they are successful. But this will be a great challenge for our football team, and we're excited about it."
Bigby, fullback Korey Hall (knee), tight end Tory Humphrey (knee) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) did not participate in Wednesday's practice.
Hall left Sunday's game at Detroit in the first quarter with a sprained knee and did not return. McCarthy said Humphrey also sustained a sprained knee at Detroit and continued to play, but had some swelling on Tuesday.
McCarthy said Hall and Humphrey would rest again tomorrow and try to practice on Friday.
Woodson, who didn't practice at all last week, came out of the game OK according to McCarthy and will continue to spend a lot of time in the training room treating the injury.
Limited participants in addition to Sitton and Wells were tackle Chad Clifton (knees) and running back Ryan Grant (hamstring).
McCarthy said Grant's schedule would be the same as last week with him limited until Friday's practice as he continues to let his hamstring heal. McCarthy added that Grant and the team doctor believe he is further ahead of where he was at this time last week.
Players participating fully Wednesday were defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (knee) and wide receiver Ruvell Martin (finger).
For the Cowboys, starting strong safety Roy Williams, who fractured his forearm in Monday night's win over Philadelphia, did not participate Wednesday and will not play Sunday. Guard Kyle Kosier (foot) was limited while Witten (shoulder) and cornerback Terence Newman (groin) participated fully.