IRVING (AP) – Brian Waters remembers when he called team headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys his football home as an undrafted rookie 14 years ago.
“Some things haven’t changed much,” he said. “Even the layout of the locker room hasn’t changed much.”
So many other things have, though. The Cowboys thought Waters was a tight end or fullback when they cut him in 1999. He returned Wednesday as a six-time Pro Bowler who was a standout at guard for Kansas City and New England.
Injuries have created such a need at his position that the Cowboys brought back Waters days before the start of the season after the 36-year-old spent a year away from football.
He wouldn’t call himself a savior, or call the Cowboys desperate.
“I think anybody who says that is just overdramatizing the situation,” said Waters, who spent 10 years with the Chiefs before making the Pro Bowl one more time with the Patriots in 2011. “They got a lot of talent in this group. They didn’t need me. There are some talented football players on this offensive line.”
Problem is, so many of the guards have been injured since the start of training camp. Both of last year’s starters, free agent pickups Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, missed the beginning of camp.
Livings is out for the year after going on injured reserve following his second arthroscopic knee surgery in six months. Bernadeau has been in and out of practice with various injuries, and had the same problem a year ago.
Ron Leary, an undrafted second-year player still awaiting his first regular-season snap, is the starting left guard at the moment even though he missed most of the preseason, first with a back injury and then for surgery on his right knee. Leary has a degenerative condition in his left knee.
Coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t rule out Waters playing in the opener Sunday night against the New York Giants. Waters ran with the second team at right guard, behind Bernadeau, in practice Wednesday.
Waters, a North Texas product who played high school football and still lives in the Dallas area, worked out for the Cowboys on Tuesday and signed a contract late that night. The sides had been negotiating off and on for about a month.
“We’ve had some issues on the offensive line from an injury standpoint throughout training camp and that’s why we’ve had some interest in him, just to make sure we shore up that area,” Garrett said. “So we felt it was important for us to get another guy in here.”
Waters said he sat out a year for personal reasons and wouldn’t elaborate. He said he considered returning during the season last year, when he was still under contract with the Patriots. But he ultimately decided to stay away. His desire to play never waned in the offseason, nor did his focus on the Cowboys, although he was talking to other teams.
“I grew up here,” Waters said. “This is the hometown team. This is a super-talented football team. I believe this team has been close to breaking through and being a playoff team. The talent, the coaching staff, the organization and growing up here were probably the biggest things that attracted me the most.”
For the Cowboys, one of the incentives was putting a veteran and two-time All Pro next to first-round draft pick Travis Frederick — on the field and in the locker room. Frederick will start at center in his first NFL game, and Leary might do the same at left guard.
“I have game-time experience, so I feel if those guys need me in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer insight on some different ways to do things and different players that I’ve played against,” Waters said. “Obviously, this center is young and smart. He’s not going to need much help from me. I’m probably going to need more help from him than he’s going to need from me.”
But Frederick didn’t have to show Waters around Valley Ranch. He’s been there before.
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