Coaches should start telling it like it is

I'm willing to wager that the Dallas Cowboys use a three-receiver set for their first offensive snap Sunday. That way they can say that Patrick Crayton is still a starter.

Silly? Sure. But this coaching staff goes to great lengths to avoid hurting players' feelings by demoting them.

Coaches declined to confirm that Miles Austin has replaced Crayton in the starting lineup, although it's been obvious that would happen since Wade Phillips said Austin would play "fifty-something" snaps per game after his 250-yard, two-TD breakout performance against Kansas City. Those numbers, by the way, exceed Crayton's production through five games this season.

With Roy Williams earning $9 million per year to be a No. 1 receiver, it's been clear that Crayton would be demoted to the No. 3 receiver, which is what happened during Monday's practice.

Just don't count on hearing that from any of the coaches.

This is the same kid-gloves treatment that Phillips' staff gave Greg Ellis last season. Anthony Spencer had clearly established himself as the superior defender against the run, earning the vast majority of reps on first and second downs. But Ellis still started every game, a tribute that certainly didn't keep him from grumbling. Crayton speaks his mind as much as Ellis, but he's keeping his mouth shut at the moment.

They did the same sort of thing at tailback in 2007. Marion Barber made the Pro Bowl as a backup to Julius Jones, who remained a starter to massage his ego. Barber was finally elevated into the starting lineup for the playoffs.

The players aren't fooled by the games that coaches play when a backup bumps a starter down the depth chart. Neither are the fans. It all just furthers the perception that Phillips is too soft to be a head coach who can sustain success.