IRVING -- The Cowboys defense has been so beaten up this season that seven players who have started at one time or another, may not suit up against the Eagles on Sunday night.
"It's part of the league," said Cowboys defensive tackle Marcus Spears. "I've been here eight years. We've had key guys get hurt every year, so guys have to step up and be ready to go."
Those pressed into a starting role this week include linebackers Ernie Sims and Dan Connor.
"Dan Conner has played a lot of football in this league and Ernie Sims has played a lot of football," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. "We've got some young guys that we feel can help us, and that's really what we're focused on: Making sure they understand what we're trying to do, and they're capable of doing what we ask them to do on Sundays."
Between them, Connor and Sims have started a total of three games this season, but they have not started at the same time. That will change on Sunday, as they fill the vacancies left by Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, two players who will remain on injured reserve the rest of the season.
"Now that I’ve got this opportunity, I know that God has a plan for me," Sims said. "He really does. He didn't give me this ability for no reason."
Sims was the sixth-overall pick by the Lions just six years ago and was signed by Dallas in October.
"I'm a talented player," Sims said. "I grew up very talented, so my story is not over. I'm excited."
Connor was a third-round pick four years ago by the Panthers and was signed by Dallas as an unrestricted free agent in March.
"I've had enough experience playing so far, y'know it's just getting comfortable in there and playing some different positions, play a little Will [linebacker] and a little Mike [linebacker]," Connor said. "That's just a comfortable level. With each snap, you’re going to improve, you're going to feel comfortable and you're going to gel with the guys around you. With each play, you’re going to get better."
And they better, playing on a defense that still has trust issues within the squad and with their fans.