Hamlin's replacement is to be determined

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have a few candidates who can fill in for Ken Hamlin for the next two to four weeks, the time it's expected to take for him to recover from an ankle sprain.

They could go with Alan Ball, who was primarily a cornerback until this season. Or they could go with Pat Watkins, a special teams star who has struggled when pushed into duty at safety. Or they could rely on rookie Michael Hamlin, who is expected to make his NFL debut Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

"We've got until Wednesday to start working on it," Wade Phillips said. "Then we could work different guys."

Ball, who is undersized at 188 pounds, seemed to establish himself as the third safety during training camp and the preseason. However, he's also the team's fourth cornerback, meaning he has to play cornerback in the nickel packages if Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick is injured.

Mike Hamlin, who has been inactive since recovering from a broken wrist, and Watkins don't cover nearly as well as Ball. But strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is capable of handling increased coverage responsibilities, secondary coach Dave Campo said.

"In quite a bit of our stuff, we were dropping [Ken] Hamlin down as kind of a robber or whatever," Campo said. "[Sensabaugh] was playing center field. They're all interchangeable."

Hamlin has not been a playmaker since his Pro Bowl campaign in 2007. But he is considered the leader of the secondary.

"He's the general back there, as far as the communication," linebacker Bradie James said. "We missed him even in this game, but it's better when you have a whole week to prepare, when you know he's not going to be in there."