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Saturday, August 2, 1997

Smith's OK, backups aren't

AUSTIN (AP) - The good news is Kevin Smith, the high-dollar cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, is OK.

The bad news is the two cornerbacks vying to back up Smith and Deion Sanders are not.

Second-year cornerback Wendell Davis underwent surgery Friday to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and could be out up to seven weeks.

Team trainers said they would look to see if his anterior cruciate ligament was OK because tests indicated there might be more damage than magnetic resonance imaging revealed.

Kenny Wheaton, a rookie corner who had impressed coaches and was challenging for the third spot with Davis, was expected to miss from four to six weeks with a separated right shoulder.

Wheaton was injured while tackling 235-pound Chad Levitt of Oakland in Thursday night's scrimmage, a 12-6 Raiders' victory.

Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said the injury occurred because Wheaton used bad technique.

"Instead of tackling with his head up and his chest, he put the point of his shoulder into a guy who outweighs him by at least 40 pounds," Switzer said. "When he came off the field, I said, 'Son, that's not the way to do it.' "

Smith also sprained his right ankle in the scrimmage but will be fine, according to team trainers. However, Smith probably won't play in Sunday night's preseason game against Oakland at Texas Stadium.

That leaves rookie Montrell Williams, Artis Houston and safety Charlie Williams to play cornerback for the Cowboys in Sunday's game and in training camp practices. Houston suffered a thigh bruise in Thursday's scrimmage.

"We are trying to find guys to bring to camp," said scouting director Larry Lacewell. "Cornerbacks are hard to find. We're calling players who are now working at banks and things like that."

In the longterm, the Cowboys should be fine, considering Smith and Sanders will be healthy for the season opener against Pittsburgh on Aug. 31.

But the injuries will cripple severely the team's ability to have effective training camp workouts.

"It hurts the defense in terms of building familiarity and experience," said Dallas defensive back coach Mike Zimmer. "The few guys we have can't go for 80 plays straight, and then if the receivers don't have quality guys to go up against, it starts to hurt the offense's ability to evaluate talent and game plans."

Everyone is expecting Oakland to load up its vertical passing game Sunday night.

"I'm sure they'll take a few shots deep," said Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Campo.

Cornerback Alundis Brice is rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and isn't expected to begin practicing in drills with the team until after next week, Zimmer said.

Rookie linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, who had his right hand X-rayed after the scrimmage, said Friday he was fine and would be ready to go Sunday night.

---

ROOKIE MAKES AN IMPRESSION: Coaches were down about the injuries to the secondary after Thursday night's scrimmage against the Raiders, but they were high on rookie linebacker Dexter Coakley.

"He's a little short, but he'll hit you pretty good for a small guy," Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Campo said.

Coakley, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound rookie out of Appalachian State, led the team with four tackles and, more importantly, made the right reads in pass coverage.

"He was making plays out there and because of his speed, he can chase people down from sideline to sideline," Campo said.

Coakley is clearly the coaches favorite to start at the weakside linebacker position, even though Alan Campos has played well and is fighting for the starting spot.

"Right now, I would feel comfortable with Coakley opening the season in the lineup," said linebacker coach Jim Bates.

Bates said criticism that Coakley will be an easy target for linemen to pancake isn't true.

"Every linebacker gets taken out by a lineman once in a while," Bates said. "That was true of Darrin Smith, too. But Dexter is so quick, I don't think a lineman will get a clean shot at him."

Coakley is seeking to replace Smith, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent.

Bates said Coakley's size also works to his advantage.

"When he hits you, he is already at an impact angle because he doesn't have to bend down and lower himself to get leverage," Bates said.


All content copyright 1997, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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