OXNARD, Calif. — A day after the 2012 draft, Ben Bass was on the stair climber at a gym, mulling his options. Bass’ lack of NFL offers had him in need of a résumé and a backup plan for his agriculture leadership and development degree from Texas A&M.His future looked so gloomy he needed a drink.“I was just getting ready to be a regular person, and then all of a sudden I got a missed phone call,” said Bass, a Plano West product. “I called back. They said it was the Dallas Cowboys, and we want you up here [for a tryout in a rookie minicamp]. I came; I showed up; I made plays; they put me on the team.”Bass’ story isn’t an unusual one in the NFL. Three of the Cowboys’ projected starters — quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Miles Austin and safety Barry Church — were acquired by the team as undrafted free agents.But Bass didn’t have the college stats or starts, for that matter. He started only three games for the Aggies, including only two as a senior, and made only 33 tackles and three sacks in three seasons. (Bass redshirted in 2007 as a true freshman, and he missed the 2009 season because of academics.)Yet, there was Bass running with the Cowboys’ first team this week.With Anthony Spencer undergoing minor knee surgery Thursday, Bass was his replacement at left defensive end with Kyle Wilber, a fourth-rounder in 2012, moving over to the other side to back up DeMarcus Ware.“It’s cool that it’s happening,” Bass said. “It’s just not cool the way that it’s happened, the way people have to go down in order for me to be here. There’s other ways I would have rather earned it. But that is just the way the league goes. You’ve got to fill in.”Bass won’t keep the job with Spencer expected to return in three weeks, but it gives him a chance for more reps and thus more of an opportunity to make the 53-player roster. Bass was on the practice squad for the first nine games of last season before being called up. He played in two games.“Injury and opportunity,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Spencer isn’t here, and Bass has done a really good job for us. He’s an instinctive player. He has a little bit of a knack for making plays both in the run game and also affecting the quarterback. He, like a lot of guys, is getting stronger. “You want to give these guys a chance. Defensive line is a position where you can use a lot of rotation. It’s just natural to do that. You’ll see some of those second and third guys mixed in with the first guys maybe more than you would at other spots.”Bass earned praise from defensive line coach Rod Marinelli this off-season. Bass’ versatility likely already has earned him a job. He has spent most of his time at defensive tackle, where Jay Ratliff is expected to miss another two weeks with a hamstring injury. Bass practiced at defensive end only four plays Monday before being moved there for Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices.“Oh man, I thought he had a really good OTAs, and I think he’s a big, good-looking athlete,” Marinelli said. “He’s a guy who can move. What you try to do is create position flexibility, so he’s worked inside. I like him inside. I’m looking at him at some end.“For now, he gives you a big 290-pound left end you can use in the run game. You’ve got to be careful with that approach and not give him too many things to do. You want to make him good first and then adjust. This was an opportunity to give him some work and see how he looks out there.”Bass’ rise from rookie minicamp invitee to the first team has starting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher looking over his shoulder.“He’s going to be the reason I’m playing for a different team next year,” said Hatcher, in the final year of a three-year, $6 million deal. “He’s coming on. He’s coming on. I’ve just got to keep my job secure and play my butt off.”For Bass, this beats trying to break into the real estate business, which is what he might be doing if the Cowboys had never called.
Charean Williams 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean