In a forgettable November loss in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Dallas Cowboys lost two key players to injury: Marc Colombo, right tackle--who will remain on the shelf for the remainder of the regular season with a broken fibula and a series of now-surgically-repaired ankle tendons--and Ken Hamlin, safety and vocal leader in the secondary, who will miss the next three weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Replacing Colombo was Doug Free, a 2007 4th round draft pick who is better acquainted with left- than right-tackle; for Hamlin, it was Alan Ball, who entered the year with 12 career tackles in as many career games.
Apparently, the pair passed the test on Sunday against the visiting Redskins.
"Yeah, both Free and Ball did some good things," Head Coach Wade Phillips said on ESPNDallas.com. "They weren't perfect, but I thought both of them filled in well enough certainly that you wouldn't say hey, they've got a weakness there because somebody came in looking at us on tape. I don't believe Oakland is going to say we're going to say well, 'We're going to attack the right tackle because he's not good enough to play,' that kind of thing."
With each player making his first career start, Ball recorded three tackles, one of which came on a crucial third down, as he and Victor Butler dropped Rock Cartwright for a loss, forcing the Redskins to try an eventually unsuccessful 50 yard field goal attempt. Free, spending the day battling Andre Carter, was effective as well, giving up only one obvious play--a tackle for a loss on a Marion Barber draw.
"I thought both of them played pretty well," Phillips said. "They did some things that other guys in that position hadn't done as well. Now they did some things that they can improve on and they did make some mistakes, but I think playing another week and both of them starting at that position."