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Kyle Orton appears set to start for Cowboys

- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 25, 2013

IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - Kyle Orton and Jon Kitna sat at opposite ends of a couch in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room Wednesday, turned toward each other and started chatting.

They probably were talking about Dallas' offense.

Orton will make his first start at quarterback in his two seasons with the Cowboys on Sunday night, unless Tony Romo can recover from a herniated disc. Dallas will be playing a winner-take-all game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title and a playoff berth.

Romo was nowhere to be seen in any of the public areas at Valley Ranch. He did not practice, and didn't attend a morning offensive meeting, according to coach Jason Garrett.

"I'm just excited," Orton said. "I think the guys have got a lot of confidence in me. I've got a lot of confidence in myself. I can fall back on my experience. I've played a lot of games in this league. I don't feel I have to do too much with the ball, just get it to 29 (DeMarco Murray), 82 (Jason Witten) and 88 (Dez Bryant)."

Garrett still hasn't ruled out Romo.

"I saw him briefly today. He's fighting through it. He's doing everything he can to get back. He's going through the rehab process.

"We'll evaluate him day to day, the same as most players who are injured."

Asked whether he thought Romo would play Sunday, Garrett said, "We'll have to see. It seems like he is feeling a little bit better."

Orton's most recent start was in Week 17 of 2011 for Kansas City in a 7-3 victory over the Denver Broncos. He had started the season with Denver, but was released after losing the starting job to Tim Tebow, who led the Broncos to the playoffs.

The 31-year-old Orton has a 35-34 record in 69 starts in nine NFL seasons.

For Dallas, Orton has appeared in three games, completing 12 of 15 passes for 129 yards.

Garrett said even that limited experience was valuable.

"Any time, at any position, it's good to play," Garrett said

Romo has been an active participant in preparing game plans, and Garrett said Orton's input would be welcomed.

"We always want our players to communicate with us," Garrett said. "We have a lot of ideas as coaches. We want our players to be comfortable with us, and we want their feedback."

Orton said until this week he hadn't taken any in-season snaps with the first-team offense, but he believes the starters are comfortable with him.

"I was fortunate to get a lot of reps during OTAs (when Romo was recovering from back surgery)," Orton said. "I've been here a couple of years, so I've had plenty of experience with these guys."

Kitna arrived back at Valley Ranch on Wednesday, also for the first time in two years, as the No. 3 quarterback or as Orton's backup.

Garrett said Kitna's job would be to run the scout team, simulating the Eagles' offense.

He's familiar with that role, because for the last two years he has been running the scout team for Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., where he is head coach.

The 41-year-old Kitna had retired from the Cowboys after going on injured reserve because of a back injury.

The 15-year veteran also missed most of the 2008 season because of a herniated disc.

Though he seemed skeptical that Romo could play Sunday, Kitna said, "There are varying levels (of herniated discs)."

Quarterbacks David Carr, Tyler Thigpen, John Skelton, Caleb Hanie and Richard Bartel worked out for the Cowboys on Tuesday, but Garrett said the deciding factor was Kitna's experience and familiarity with Dallas' offensive system.

"I think he was gung-ho. He actually reached out to us," Garrett said. "My comment back was `Are you serious?' He said, `Absolutely.' He spoke to his family about it, and it just made sense."

NOTES: Injured cornerback Morris Claiborne and wide receiver/kick returner Dwayne Harris returned to practice Wednesday after missing Sunday's game because of hamstring injuries. LBs Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman, who left the game at Washington, also practiced. LBs Sean Lee (neck) and Ernie Sims (groin) remained out.

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