IRVING, Texas (AP) Bruce Carter was benched for a game over spotty play early in the season. Now it's hard to tell what the Dallas Cowboys would do without him at linebacker.
Carter's return to practice Wednesday after missing the loss to Green Bay with a hamstring injury was good news for the NFL's worst defense.
Sean Lee is probably out Sunday against Washington with a neck sprain. Justin Durant's season is over because of a hamstring injury.
Ernie Sims isn't practicing because of a hip and groin problem.
Among the replacements, Kyle Wilber is the only one who has started a game. And he began the season as a defensive end.
"We don't know who is going to be available to us this week, so we'll play that out first and foremost," coach Jason Garrett said. "The big thing we try to do is make sure we have all of the contingency plans in place."
DeVonte Holloman, a rookie sixth-round pick, played the most snaps among linebackers against the Packers in his first game in two months. He had been sidelined by a neck injury.
The top four linebackers - Lee, Carter, Durant and Sims - were all out in the second half, when Green Bay scored touchdowns on five straight possessions to rally for a 37-36 win after trailing 26-3 at halftime.
The Cowboys have already surpassed last season's franchise record for yards allowed with two games remaining. But they can still end a three-year playoff drought by winning their last two.
Dallas couldn't do it last season with a decimated crew of linebackers - unable to stop Drew Brees' passing and Albert Morris' running in the final two losses.
"You can't be discouraged," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "You can't lose confidence. You can't even worry about what happened yesterday. It's all about today."
Carter will call the defensive signals if Lee doesn't play. He's actually been more effective when he's had to take over Lee's leadership role, and now he's surrounded by four players with combined totals of 47 games and five starts.
"I just want to go in there and get everybody lined up," Carter said. "I think once we can get everybody lined up and get into position where we need to be, I think things will kind of fall into place and it'll flow a lot better."
One of the replacements is Orie Lemon, who has been on and off the Dallas roster since signing as an undrafted free agent two years ago. He was cut by the Cowboys on Saturday and re-signed Tuesday.
"We don't know who's going to be there or not be there, but it's a concern," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We ain't going to pout around. We'll be ready to play."
NOTES: Besides Lee and Sims, the Cowboys were missing starting DEs DeMarcus Ware and George Selvie in practice. Both are dealing with back issues. ... CB Morris Claiborne said he will miss his fourth straight game with a hamstring injury. His return was slowed because he was away from the team after the death of his father and the birth of his child. ... The Cowboys signed kick-return specialist Micheal Spurlock with Dwayne Harris (hamstring) expected to miss the Washington game and Terrance Williams also slowed by a hamstring issue. ... Dallas signed DT Frank Kearse off Tennessee's practice squad and added LB Jonathan Stewart to its practice squad.
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