Near the top of the list: rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber, who has played primarily on special teams but is penciled in for extended duty Sunday while alternating between inside and outside linebacker.
Ryan said he expects Wilber, who has made only two tackles on defense this season, to play “anywhere from 12 to 50” snaps against the Eagles, depending on personnel groups.
“The kid’s got to come through for us,” Ryan said. “He’s going to play quite a bit so … he’ll be tested a lot. It’s baptism under fire.”
Wilber, a fourth-round pick from Wake Forest, is far from alone on a defensive depth chart that features four starters on injured reserve (LB Sean Lee, LB Bruce Carter, DE Kenyon Coleman, S Barry Church) and a fifth, nose tackle Jay Ratliff (groin), who is not expected to play Sunday.
But he’s the most untested member of a group that coach Jason Garrett said he will use to “mix and match” defensive personnel groups Sunday against the Eagles.
For the season, Wilber _ who underwent thumb surgery during training camp _ has made two tackles on defense and three on special teams. He made his NFL debut on Sept. 23 against Tampa Bay and has been inactive four times this season.
Ryan said he is prepared to lean heavily on Wilber, in part because veteran linebacker Brady Poppinga _ signed earlier this week _ probably will not be active for Sunday’s game while he continues to learn the Cowboys’ defense.
Ryan said Wilber has “always had a good knack for being able to cover. He’s an instinctual player (and) a smart kid. He’s going to … step up and prove that he belongs. We’re excited about him.”
Wilber said: “I’m ready. Definitely ready. I’ve been keeping up with Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware, trying to get all the plays right and mentally focus on everything. I’m real excited I get to show my defensive skills now.”
_ Jimmy Burch