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Eagles rookie Jordan Hicks downplays role in Cowboys' demise

Linebacker KO'd Tony Romo in Week 2, and Dallas is winless since. As rematch approaches, healthy Eagles may take his place.

JERRY JONES seemed to sense what was about to befall his team, when he spoke following the Dallas Cowboys' 20-10 victory over the host Eagles back on Sept. 20.

The Cowboys' owner told reporters he felt "just about as low as a crippled cricket's ass," after learning quarterback Tony Romo had broken his left clavicle on a sack by Eagles rookie inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, with nine minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Dallas has lost all five of its games since that victory, first with Brandon Weeden at QB, then, starting last week against Seattle, with Matt Cassel. A loss this week, when the Birds visit, would push the Cowboys close to the edge of the abyss, even in the victory-challenged NFC East. Romo, on short-term IR, is eligible to return Nov. 22 against Miami.

So when reporters approached Hicks on Wednesday, they were gathering around the locker stall of the player who has had the biggest impact on the Cowboys' season thus far. It was also the locker stall of the player who has easily outperformed the rest of the Eagles' 2015 rookie class, and the locker stall of the player who could see his role nonetheless minimized, as Kiko Alonso returns to the lineup from a knee injury.

Sometime soon - maybe Sunday night at Dallas - the Eagles figure to have all four of their impact ILBs healthy, with Mychal Kendricks back from a hamstring injury and DeMeco Ryans apparently close to returning from the same injury, though Ryans didn't practice Wednesday. Hicks, a third-round pick from Texas, could end up playing only on special teams, as he did in the season opener in Atlanta, which would kind of derail his budding candidacy for defensive rookie of the year.

Hicks didn't seem terribly concerned with any of that Wednesday.

"It was just another tackle. It was, obviously, unfortunate he got hurt," Hicks said, when asked whether he had thought about the ripples created by his sack, on which Romo fumbled, the ball recovered by Fletcher Cox. "But not really (something Hicks thinks about). It's just another play. I've been focused on what I had to do going forward, growing and learning. There's a lot of learning that took place after that."

Hicks has played 343 of a possible 361 defensive snaps the past five games, and has been one of the team's most productive players, managing 10 solo tackles twice in his four starts - against the Jets and the Giants - while recovering three fumbles.

"He has moved himself up into the conversation" at inside linebacker, defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Wednesday, when asked about Hicks. "In the beginning of the year, he wasn't in the conversation, other than special teams and a backup role as we grew him. But he jumped in and did such a nice job that he has brought himself into the conversation of a main rotation."

"We'll see," Hicks said, when asked where he fits in now. "They haven't said anything yet . . . who's No. 1 or where I'm going to be playing. We'll see. Obviously, I want to play. Who's not here to play? But at the same time, I want this team to win, and I want what's best for this team.

"You're here to make plays. My goal is to earn the respect of this team and the league. I've said that since Week 1, and that's been my focus . . . Obviously, it's a good feeling when you see that respect starting to come. But there were a lot of mistakes out there, a lot of things that I had to work on and learn from."

Davis said that ultimately, he can scheme up lots of ways to get his ILBs on the field; he acknowledged having someone such as Alonso or Kendricks take some snaps at outside linebacker, where the Eagles are much thinner, would be a natural move. But Davis said he isn't in position to do anything exotic just yet.

"You can't expand any of the roles of the guys that haven't been practicing," he said. "First, you've got to get them back into the main role, get them oiled up to where they're very confident, and play well at that spot, before I can get too exotic with packages."

Alonso hasn't played since the last Dallas game, when he felt something give in his repaired left knee. The Eagles thought he had torn his ACL again, but Dr. James Andrews' arthroscopic procedure cleaned out the knee, Alonso said, and found the ACL intact. Alonso said his knee feels better now than it felt before he did whatever he did to it against Dallas.

"It's very encouraging," Alonso said, after practicing two days in a row.

"He's always around the ball, constantly making plays," Hicks said of Alonso, whose athletic, onehanded interception in the opener helped keep the Eagles within striking distance of the Falcons.

Alonso said he has been given no indication of how the rotation will work.

"We've got a lot of great linebackers. That's how it is," he said.

Davis said Alonso's instincts should help him not look rusty or off-kilter after a six-week layoff.

"He really gets the game of football; he sees it well, he's got great eyes," Davis said. "So no matter what you put him in – like, yesterday was his first (practice) day in a while, and he didn't miss a beat."

Ryans also could be looking at a reduced role, when he's healthy.

"Whatever's best for us, whatever we need, however the rotation goes, however Billy decides who's in and who's out on that particular down, it'll work for us," Ryans predicted.

Kendricks said everyone works with everyone in practice, so there shouldn't be communication problems if coaches move inside 'backers in and out.

"We're all used to each other and how we play," he said. "All of us are paired with one another at some point in time."