Cowboys hoping injured players return vs. Giants

The Cowboys are in a delusional state as they enter the final week of their preseason.

After four preseason games, the Cowboys are hoping several key starters and reserves return to the field from injuries for the regular-season opener against the New York Giants.

Starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is no closer to playing than Bob Lilly is to coming out of retirement.

After the Arizona game, Jerry Jones said the expectation was for Ratliff to return from hamstring and groin injuries for the season opener. The owner didn't sound as confident in that assessment after Saturday night's preseason game against Cincinnati.

Then there's defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is recovering from minor knee surgery. He's not going to practice this week either, but he's farther along than Ratliff in his recovery.

That's two starters whom the Cowboys need to work in this 4-3 scheme of Monte Kiffin's and who will be replaced by free agents off the street if they're not ready. George Selvie will start against the Giants if Spencer isn't ready. Selvie has played in 36 games over his career; 90 for Spencer. Nick Hayden (28 career games) would replace Ratliff (104).

"We will get Spencer, (Morris) Claiborne, Ratliff and we will be even better," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "I'm not making predictions right now, but like I said, we have to keep working and playing like we have been playing and we'll be OK."

Claiborne is expected to practice in some fashion Monday after missing nearly two weeks with a sore knee. He just started running last Thursday and it's no big deal if he doesn't play in final preseason game against Houston. What matters is the opener.

The issues on offense are so severe -- the team lost both first- and second-team left guards Nate Livings and Ronald Leary. Each have undergone surgeries, and Jones said Livings' knee is degenerative. Livings seemed to dispute that Saturday night by saying "those are Jerry's words."

Jones talks as if Livings has retired. The general manager has glowing praise of the potential return of Leary, who has a chronic knee problem himself, but not in the knee that just got surgically repaired.

"We're trying to make it work," Jones said. "We've tried two or three things and some of it has worked and some of it has not. Leary looks like it's going to work for us. We have done a few things that haven't. That can happen to you when you're dealing with a part of your roster that takes 10 players."

To solve some of the problems, the Cowboys moved Doug Free to right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau to left guard and Jeremy Parnell to right tackle for the Bengals game.

The Cowboys have talked about offensive line continuity throughout the offseason.

So much for that.

Injuries and ineffective play have pushed the Cowboys into desperation mode. The team offered contracts to Brandon Moore and Brian Waters, who haven't played for NFL teams for more than a year.

Moore has retired; Waters is just waiting.

Backup running back Lance Dunbar has been outstanding in the preseason, but he's out with a sprained foot. The last guy to have a sprained foot around here was DeMarco Murray, who missed six games last season. If Dunbar isn't ready for the opener, Phillip Tanner and rookie Joseph Randle move up.

Injuries happen every year to NFL teams -- it's part of life. The Cowboys are putting a lot of hope in the return of some injured players so they can feel good about their chances against the Giants.

That's pretty scary. And its delusional.