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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 17, 2010

NFL draft: Cowboys’ 2009 draft class held back a year

By Charean Williams
McClatchy Newspapers

Robert Brewster's rookie season ended before it began. He was doing dumbbell presses July 6 when he heard a pop. Two days later, Brewster underwent surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted the Ball State offensive lineman in the third round last April in hopes of developing him into a future starter. The Cowboys released left tackle Flozell Adams earlier this month, and right tackle Marc Colombo, who turns 32 in October, isn't getting any younger. Yet, the Cowboys still have no idea what they have in Brewster, who spent the 2009 season on injured reserve.

"Words can't even express it," Brewster said of being sidelined. "You play this sport because you love it so much. When it's taken from you, and you see all your teammates out there playing their hearts out, and you're standing on the sideline, knowing you can't do anything to help, that hurts. That hurts bad."

The Cowboys' rookie draft class was star-crossed from Day 3 of minicamp when the team's indoor practice facility collapsed on them.

Of the team's 12 choices in 2009, three went on injured reserve before the season with major injuries. Two others, inside linebacker Jason Williams and safety Mike Hamlin, were injured in the preseason and missed the start of the regular season.

The 11 drafted rookies who received paychecks from the Cowboys last season — including cornerback Mike Mickens who was on the team's practice squad until Nov. 2 when Tampa Bay signed him to its active roster — combined to play in 59 games, with four starts. They had three sacks, 19 special teams tackles, seven catches for 62 yards and 29 touchbacks on kickoffs.

That's why owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys will welcome a draft class and a half to training camp in July. The 2010 class will be joined by the 2009 class, which still is unknown for the most part.

"Frankly, it's really an aberration to have had that 8many of those players hurt, but I'm glad we didn't have to make decisions about exposing them (on the waiver wire), trying to get them to the practice squad or trying to protect them once they were on the practice squad," Jones said. "...We do know them better than when they were drafted. We know with their mental makeup they're capable of being players. We don't know enough to know how good."

Before last season, Brewster had never missed a game with injury. Neither had linebacker Stephen Hodge nor linebacker Brandon Williams.

But on game day at Cowboys Stadium, the three rookies found themselves standing together on the sideline, dressed in street clothes. During the week, while their teammates were practicing and meeting and getting ready for game day, the three rookies were in the training room rehabbing.

Through their pain, they grew closer than teammates.

"We had no choice but to hang out together," said Williams, a former Fort Worth South Hills and Texas Tech star whom the Cowboys drafted in the fourth round. "We were all in the same boat."

Brewster has been fully cleared and is ready for organized team activities. Williams said his surgically repaired left knee is about 75 percent. He will practice during organized team activities but could be limited. Hodge's left knee, which required microfracture surgery, isn't expected to be cleared until training camp begins in July.

They no longer are rookies, but in some ways, they still are.

"Having somebody to go through it with you every day, it makes it feel like you're still part of the team," said Hodge, a sixth-round pick out of TCU. "I know for a minute there, I just didn't even feel like I was a part of the team, because I wasn't doing anything. We all came together for one goal — to do the best we can.

"This will be our first year on the field, and we have a chance to go to the Super Bowl here. There wouldn't be anything better than that."

Rookies no more

The Cowboys drafted 12 players last April, with 11 getting paychecks from the team during the regular season. But the Cowboys did not get much production for their money:

3. Jason Williams, ILB, 6-1, 241, Western Illinois — Williams had been expected to spell Keith Brooking on defense until he injured his ankle in the third preseason game. He was a disappointment, playing special teams in only five games and making only two special teams tackles.

3. Robert Brewster, OT, 6-4, 325, Ball State — Brewster tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights in the post-minicamp training program. He was placed on injured reserve after surgery.

4. Stephen McGee, QB, 6-3, 225, Texas A&M — He was drafted to be a developmental quarterback. He spent the season as the third quarterback behind Tony Romo and Jon Kitna.

4. Victor Butler, OLB, 6-2, 248, Oregon State — He played in every game, starting the New Orleans game after DeMarcus Ware injured his neck. He had three sacks, including two against Carolina, and made 12 special teams tackles.

4. Brandon Williams, OLB, 6-5, 252, Texas Tech — He was expected to provide the Cowboys depth at outside linebacker, but Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while covering a punt against the Tennessee Titans in preseason. He had surgery and was placed on injured reserve.

5. DeAngelo Smith, CB/S, 5-11, 194, Cincinnati — The Cowboys cut him in their final preseason cuts Sept. 5. They had hoped to return him to the practice squad, but the Cleveland Browns claimed him off waivers. The Browns cut him; Chicago signed him and later cut him. He now is on the Bears' practice squad.

5. Michael Hamlin, FS, 6-2, 214, Clemson — Hamlin fractured his right wrist against San Francisco in the preseason. He played in six games and made one special teams tackle.

5. David Buehler, K, 6-2, 227, USC — He was the Cowboys' biggest rookie contributor, leading the league with 29 touchbacks a year after Dallas had no touchbacks. Buehler also had three special teams tackles. In the off-season, he will work on becoming proficient as a field-goal kicker.

6. Stephen Hodge, ILB, 6-0, 234, TCU — Hodge never made it to the regular season, requiring microfracture surgery on his left knee.

6. John Phillips, TE, 6-5, 251, Virginia — Phillips is listed as third string on the Cowboys' depth chart, but they trusted him more than Martellus Bennett by the end of the season.

7. Mike Mickens, CB, 6-0, 186, Cincinnati — He did not make the Cowboys' final roster, but they signed him to their practice squad where he stayed until Nov. 2 when the Bucs signed him to their 53-player roster.

7. Manuel Johnson, WR, 5-11, 189, Oklahoma — He was on the Cowboys' practice squad all season.