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IT'S ALL RIGHT WITH ROGERS FORMER USC LINEMAN VYING FOR STARTING SPOT WITH DALLAS.

Byline: Billy Witz Staff Writer

OXNARD - Back in his hometown, Jacob Rogers is on familiar footing. But what's most comforting at the start of his second season with the Dallas Cowboys is where he puts his hand down is no longer terra incognito.

The switch from left tackle, where he was a three-year starter and All-American at USC, to the right side left him lost a year ago and led to a lost season.

A second-round draft choice, Rogers was unable to beat out a pair of former undrafted free agents - Torrin Tucker and Kurt Vollers - on an offensive line screaming for help.

So lacking was the Cowboys' confidence in Rogers that he saw action in just two games, both on special teams.

``Obviously, I would have liked to have played last year, but it wasn't in the cards,'' said Rogers, conceding his frustration from a year ago. ``I can't change that. All I can do is work hard in the off-season like I did and battle it out in camp.''

Among the changes made by Dallas after last season's disappointing 6-10 finish, offensive line coach George Warhop was fired and the team spent $9 million in bonus money to sign free agent Marco Rivera, a Pro Bowl guard in Green Bay.

With coach Bill Parcells saying Thursday he wants to run the ball 35 times per game - a number the Cowboys reached just three times last year - one of the questions to be answered over the next month is whether Rogers can hold hold his own at right tackle.

After a productive off-season, Rogers has spent the past four days taking most of the first-team reps. The real signs of progress will start to come next week when the preseason games begin.

``The exhibition season will be very critical for him,'' offensive line coach Tony Sparano said. ``Jacob is a guy who really hasn't played in a ball game. As much work as we can get him will be valuable. It will give us a great idea being able to see him in a game situation.''

Sparano said one of the tests will be to see how the 6-foot-6, 315 pound Rogers fairs against the more physical ends he'll face on the right side. Left tackles more frequently deal with the speed and athleticism of pass-rushing ends.

As Rogers spoke with reporters after practice Thursday, he hardly seemed concerned. The word he kept coming back to was comfortable.

``It s just doing things backwards the way I did them the last three years in college, he said. ``I'm not guessing on every play and going back through the playbook in my mind. More so, it's just being comfortable in my stance, in my sets and all my footwork, compared to last year when it was all new to me. I'm able to see things so much better. It's all comfortable now.''

As practice concluded, he stopped at the fence to visit with some of the handful of friends he grew up with. His parents, wife Erin and their three-month-old daughter, McKenzie, are all regular visitors. In two weeks, they'll be around to celebrate his 24th birthday and perhaps news that he'll be starting this season.

On the field or off, Rogers would agree, it's nice to feel at home.

Billy Witz, (818) 713-3621

billy.witz(at)dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 5, 2005
Words:559
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