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Wednesday August 31st, 2011

After missing all of 2010, receiver Jerheme Urban could sneak his way into the Chiefs' starting lineup. (Cal Sport Media)

The window is closing for NFL teams to get their Week 1 starting lineups in place -- about a week and a half of practices and a backups-heavy fourth preseason game are all that stands between now and the regular season.

And while there are still position battles to be settled (Pick a QB already, Carolina!!), it looks like we already know of a few unexpected names who could start when Week 1 rolls around.

Names like ...

Phil Costa, C, Cowboys: Costa made Dallas' 2010 roster after signing as an undrafted free agent and even wound up starting a game. Now, the Cowboys have so much faith in him, despite a preseason knee sprain, that they cut Andre Gurode. How high is the bar for Costa? All Gurode has done is make five consecutive Pro Bowls.

Marcus Easley, WR, Bills: Of all the players on this list, Easley may have the most work to do to secure a starting spot. But with Donald Jones suffering from a head injury and Roscoe Parrish more suited for a No. 3/slot receiver role, Easley could slip into the lineup opposite Stevie Johnson. The downside? Easley, a 2010 draft pick, has never played an NFL game after hurting his knee last preseason.

Jason Pinkston, OT, Browns: Unlike Costa's situation in Dallas, the Browns probably would rather not have Pinkston on the starting line. An injury to Eric Steinbach, which required surgery and will sideline the veteran all year, forced Cleveland to speed up the process with their fifth-round pick.

Javon Ringer/Jamie Harper, RB, Titans: The circumstances here are well known -- Chris Johnson's holdout means that Tennessee is facing the prospect of entering the season without its superstar running back. That should elevate Ringer into a starting role, but a preseason injury has given Harper a chance. He's excelled, too, which could shake things up yet again in Tennesee's backfield.

Michael Bennett, DE, Buccaneers: The Bucs selected Da'Quan Bowers in the second round of April's draft with the clear plan being to start him. Instead, Bennett's simply outplayed the rookie during camp. Bennett started a pair of games last season at defensive end, and barring a late charge from Bowers, he'll be lined up there again when Tampa Bay hosts Detroit on Sept. 11.

Evan Mathis, G, Eagles: Philadelphia's offensive line is in flux with rookies Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins pinning down the center and right guard spots, respectively. Mathis had the look of a solid depth signing when the Eagles landed him this free agent period, but Todd Herremans' shift to right tackle has opened the left guard slot for Mathis. He hasn't started since Week 9 of the 2009 season as a Bengal.

Jerheme Urban, WR, Chiefs: Kansas City signed Urban away from Arizona prior to last season, but the receiver suffered a season-ending injury in the final 2010 preseason game. With the Chiefs drafting Jonathan Baldwin and signing Steve Breaston this offseason, Urban's role seemed up in the air. Suddenly, after Baldwin struggled early and injured himself in a locker-room scuffle, Urban appears ready to pounce.

Turk McBride, DE, Saints: Alex Brown started all 16 games at defensive end for New Orleans last year, and the Saints spent a first-round pick on Cameron Jordan out of Ohio State. But following Brown's release, it looks like McBride, most recently a member of the Lions, will get the nod on the Saints' starting line.

Reshad Jones, S, Dolphins: Chris Clemons started 14 games for Miami last season and made 61 tackles. He's been pushed all camp, though, by Jones, in his second year out of Georgia. Jones started the Dolphins' third preseason game -- a possible indication that he's taken the lead in the race. • Will Rackley, G, Jaguars: The Jags signed ex-Packer Jason Spitz this offseason to start at left guard. Instead, it looks like that position will fall to Rackley, a relatively unknown third-round pick from Lehigh.

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