Cowboys' Hamlin returns against NFL's best offense

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

What a welcome back reward for Ken Hamlin.

The Dallas Cowboys safety is getting back in the lineup just in time to go against the NFL's most productive offense. After missing four games because of a high right ankle sprain, Hamlin's return is expected to come Saturday night against the undefeated New Orleans Saints, who average 426 yards and 36 points a game.

``Any game where I would have come back would have been a tough offense,'' Hamlin said Wednesday. ``I'm a competitor, so I want to be out on the field. It's going to be an exciting game I think, but I'm ready to get back to start playing.''

While the Cowboys listed Hamlin as having only limited participation in practice Wednesday, coach Wade Phillips said the safety took most of the snaps with the first-team defense and was moving around good.

``His presence is felt out there pretty quickly when he starts calling out what the plays are going to be, who to look for and all those things,'' Phillips said. ``He's a real positive guy back in the secondary that helps everybody else. It's good to have him back.''

Hamlin had 59 tackles the first nine games, including seven tackles against Green Bay before getting hurt in the third quarter of that game Nov. 15. It was the first time he missed any games in his seven NFL seasons because of an on-field injury.

The only other time Hamlin didn't play was in 2005, when he missed the final 10 regular season games as well as the playoffs and Super Bowl with Seattle because of a head injury. He was in intensive care for three days with a fractured skull after being attacked by two assailants outside a Seattle nightclub.

Hamlin, who signed as a free agent with the Cowboys in 2007 and followed that immediately with his only Pro Bowl appearance, said he couldn't stand being out the last month. During that stretch, Dallas (8-5) has gone from the NFC East lead to trailing Philadelphia by a game after consecutive losses to start December.

``I've had plenty of trials and different things that have tried me and made me appreciate this game,'' Hamlin said. ``That's one thing, I've always had an appreciation for the game and being out there and being able to play.''

Alan Ball, a third-year player, had been primarily a special teams player and had never started before replacing Hamlin the past four games. Ball had a season-high four tackles and a pass breakup last week against San Diego.

``Alan Ball has done a great job, but it was tough for me,'' Hamlin said. ``It was a challenge for me to be on the sideline and do the small things that I could do on the sideline, which was just helping any way possible.''

This week, Hamlin will be back against a Saints offense that doesn't have a receiver among the league's top 29 in receptions. Instead, quarterback Drew Brees throws to six players who have at least 33 catches each.

Phillips, who is also the team's defensive coordinator, believes Hamlin's presence alone will have an impact.

``The mental part of it, he's really sharp. I think that's going to help him and us a lot,'' Phillips said. ``How rusty he is, I won't know that until the game. Alan Ball has been doing a good job and we could certainly play him a certain percentage of the time.''

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