Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent is expected to make his season debut Sunday against the New York Giants.
Brent must first show enough in practice to make the active roster, including getting in shape and losing weight.
Coach Jason Garrett said Brent has made huge strides since returning to practice two weeks ago and has a good chance to play for the first time in almost two years.
Brent, who sat out last season, was suspended for the first 10 games this season after being convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the 2012 death of teammate Jerry Brown.
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“He’s certainly part of the defensive line rotation that we are evaluating, and we will just see how he practices,” Garrett said. “He has made a lot of strides each day he has practiced. It’s getting better and better, meaning lighter and lighter.”
Brent’s last game was Dec. 2, 2012, against the Philadelphia Eagles. The accident happened the following Friday. He missed the next game against the Cincinnati Bengals before being deactivated for the final three games of the season.
The Cowboys have changed defensive schemes from the 3-4 to the 4-3 during Brent’s time away. At 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to make a difference. The Cowboys have no one as big as him on their defensive line.
“He is certainly bigger than the other guys playing the defensive tackle spots for us,” Garrett said. “One thing about Josh is that he is very athletic. He is athletic with his feet. He is athletic with his hands. He can get off of blocks. Those are the traits you are looking for.
“He is a competitive guy. He is a tough guy. He is in the stage of trying to get his body right and his feet underneath him.”
Linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since both suffered knee injuries in the 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 2.
After sitting out the Jacksonville game and enjoying a full week of rest and rehab during the bye, both are ready to play Sunday against the Giants.
“The bye week was much-needed for everybody,” McClain said. “I think a lot of guys feel better, guys who were banged up had time to rest. I feel better.”
McClain said he is not 100 percent, but he feels rested. In addition to the knee, he has battled groin injuries for much of the season.
“I don’t think you ever get close to 100 percent in the football season,” McClain said. “But the rest is well-needed for everybody. I think more guys had their legs today in practice, so it felt better.”
McClain is third on the team with 44 tackles and leads the Cowboys with four tackles for loss. He is also tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
The Cowboys will sign practice-squad cornerback Micah Pellerin to the active roster later this week to give them depth.
The Cowboys have just three cornerbacks available because Tyler Patmon is out two to four weeks with a knee injury.
The Cowboys will need to make a roster move to make room for Pellerin and will likely target the defensive line, where they have 11 players on the active roster.