Pondering the Cowboys' 46: Josh Brent's return

IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys approach their first playoff game in five years with Sunday's wild-card meeting against the Detroit Lions, the health of the defensive line is of note.

Tyrone Crawford did not practice Friday because of an illness and is questionable. Nick Hayden took part in only a limited part of one practice. Josh Brent missed the final four games with a calf strain after missing the previous two seasons because of off-field issues. Henry Melton was placed on injured reserve this week because of a knee injury.

As we ponder the Cowboys' 46-man roster, the final spots will come down to the defensive line and linebacker. Despite the illness and injury, Crawford and Hayden should start. The final spot comes down to Brent and defensive end Kenneth Boatright. The edge goes to Brent because of the health of the other interior linemen.

At linebacker, Anthony Hitchens is questionable with an high right ankle sprain and did not practice during the week. Zack Martin missed a week of practice and played two weeks ago, but Hitchens' injury is different. Newcomer James Anderson or Dekoda Watson, who missed the final five games with a hamstring injury, could figure into the final linebacker role if Hitchens can't play.

Doug Free is listed as doubtful for the third straight week with an ankle injury, but he is likely to miss the game.

So the guess at the inactives is: quarterback Dustin Vaughan, Free, tackle Donald Hawkins, Boatright, Watson, linebacker Keith Smith and safety Jakar Hamilton.