Position battle: Phillips pushing Bennett?

SAN ANTONIO – Martellus Bennett, who likely is a few days away from getting off the nonfootball injury list, is working out on the side and watching John Phillips make plays during practices.

Phillips, a sixth-round pick in 2009, doesn’t have Bennett’s talent. It’s not even close.

But Phillips has earned something Bennett hasn’t: the trust of his coaches. That’s why his role expanded throughout his rookie season.

“Every opportunity he gets, he seems to make the catch, make the block, do the little thing that helps our football team,” offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. “He did that really all throughout last year in a limited role, and he has a little bit more of a role with Martellus out here the first four or five practices. He’s doing it. It’s not always flashy, but he always seems to make the block or make the catch or do something that helps our offense.”

Garrett danced around a question about whether Phillips could earn playing time at Bennett’s expense, saying the Cowboys have “healthy competition” at every position.

The Cowboys firmly believe that they can tap into Bennett’s immense talent. They don’t regret declining the Bengals’ offer of a premier draft pick for the talented tight end before last season’s trade deadline.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett has a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism that should make him a weapon in the passing game. However, he has to prove that he can be dependable for Garrett to include him in game plans and Romo to look for him.

Bennett is a good inline blocker who can be used in the slot or as an outside receiver. Phillips is much more effective as an H-back or fullback, making it possible that he could be utilized instead of Bennett in the two-tight end package from time to time.

“He’s one of those crafty guys, he finds a way to get it done,” Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said of Phillips. “He works his tail off. Whatever you ask him to do, he does it pretty good.”

Witten called Phillips’ performance in Monday’s session the best practice he’s seen from him. Phillips might have been even better Tuesday morning, when he made several catches.

Phillips hasn’t been as fun to watch as Bennett was during last year’s training camp, but he’s making a strong case for an bigger role.