Cowboys Notebook

COWBOYS ROOKIE TO MEET CHILDHOOD HERO ON THE FIELD: -- Rob Petitti grew up a New York Giants fan, often wearing the Number 92 jersey of Michael Strahan. This week, the Dallas rookie offensive tackle will be up-close to one of his childhood heroes. He goes face-to-face on the field against the six-time Pro Bowl defensive end when the Cowboys play the Giants on Sunday. Petitti said he may have gotten Strahan's autograph in the past, but doesn't ever remember talking to him. There aren't likely to be any pleasantries exchanged Sunday, when Petitti will be trying to keep Strahan from sacking Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Cowboys tight end Dan Campbell, who once played for the Giants with Strahan and now has to help block him, has been giving Petitti plenty of advice this week. Coach Bill Parcells has as well. Petitti's warmup for Strahan was facing Philadelphia's standout defensive end, Jevon Kearse, last Sunday -- in a Dallas victory. When Parcells saw Petitti at the Senior Bowl in January, the offensive lineman had a hurt toe and weighed more than 360 pounds. But the kid from New Jersey had also been a four-year starter at Pittsburgh, and the Cowboys drafted him in the sixth round. By the season opener, Petitti was down to 325 pounds and was the starting right tackle -- the first Cowboys rookie since Dave Widell in 1988 to start the season opener at that position.

IF NO JULIUS, THEN WHO?: -- If injured running back Julius Jones misses Sunday's game, coach Bill Parcells said it doesn't matter who starts. But he won't say who will: Anthony Thomas or rookies Tyson Thompson or Marion Barber? Parcells says you're not going to know until Sunday. Parcells said he won't decide on the starting running back until Saturday night, after reviewing tapes of practice this week. Thompson, a rookie from Irving, was the primary runner in the second half against Philadelphia when Jones was out. Thomas, a fifth-year player who has had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, has played in only three of five games since joining the Cowboys. He had four carries for just 5 yards last week when Jones was hurt, and has just 14 yards on nine carries this season.

CRADLING CRAYTON: -- Receiver/punt returner Patrick Crayton's constant companion at the team's Valley Ranch practice facility this week has been a football cradled under his arm. Coach Bill Parcells has been upset with Crayton being "careless with the ball, and it's going to hurt us." It's not the pass-catching that bothers Parcells, but how Crayton holds the ball loosely on punt returns and sometimes after catching it. The coach decided to make Crayton keep a football with him throughout the week. Somebody inscribed Crayton's Number 84 on the football.