IRVING (AP) — Isaiah Stanback’s conversion from college quarterback to NFL receiver finally moved into gear Saturday with the rookie making his practice-field debut with the Dallas Cowboys.

Stanback is an intriguing enough athlete that the Cowboys used a fourth-round pick on him. They did so knowing he was coming off foot surgery, then had to wait longer when he developed shin splints.

Ultimately, coach Wade Phillips hopes to make Stanback a versatile threat in the mold of Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. That’ll have to be down the road, though, because of his delayed start.

“We’re going to start at receiver and see what he can do,” Phillips said. “I think he can do a lot of things. He’s a really gifted athlete. … That’s why we drafted him.”

Stanback was a receiver his first season in college, then took over at quarterback and befuddled defenses with his arm and feet. He ran track, too, and was even drafted by the Baltimore Orioles last summer even though he didn’t play baseball in college.

With his combination of size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds), speed and versatility, the Cowboys figured they’d find a way to use him — maybe even lots of ways.

He’ll likely get a chance to return punts and to be part of some kick-coverage squads. He eventually may take some snaps at quarterback, too, either to be an emergency substitute or for some trickery.

Eventually is the key word. Before the Cowboys can tap into his abilities, they’ve got to make sure he’s healthy and that he really can run routes and catch passes. His baptism Saturday included plays at both split end and flanker.

“Whatever they tell me to do, I’ll be out there doing it,” Stanback said, smiling.

He’s ready, too, having “approached the offense as if I was a quarterback, so I tried to learn everything well.”

He expects that quarterback experience to help him recognize defenses and, thus, how to exploit them.

“Mentally, I’m fine. It’s just the physical aspect of it,” he said. “I’ve got to learn how to run routes, learn releases. I soak up information pretty good.”

Stanback is expected to play in the next preseason game, Saturday night against Denver. The Cowboys and Broncos also will have several joint practices this week, which should help speed his learning curve.

Count Jerry Jones among those who will be keenly watching No. 86. The team owner referred to Stanback as “an interesting experiment,” then asked to retract the word “experiment.”

“He knows what to do from the class work he’s done,” Jones said. “Now we’re going to find out can he immediately take it from the classroom and step out there and execute. If he does that, that’s going to be pretty impressive — and it looked like he had a pretty good practice for a first day. I’m glad to see him out there, glad we’ve been as patient as we’ve been.”

Extra points

Rookie LT Doug Free sprained a ligament in his right knee during the Indianapolis game Thursday night and will be out two to four weeks. Phillips said trainers are “optimistic toward the two.”

Coaches are optimistic about what they saw from Free before he was hurt. The fourth-round pick from Northern Illinois held his own against Colts star Dwight Freeney.

“I thought Free was real competitive going against who he was going against,” Phillips said. “He showed his quickness but more so he competed against a good player. That bodes well for the future for him.”

Free started against Indianapolis because usual first-teamer Flozell Adams is coming off knee surgery. Both Adams and starting RT Marc Colombo are expected to play against Denver on Saturday night.

Practice was held outdoors Saturday, starting the team’s acclimation to the heat. Quarterback Tony Romo said the triple-digit temperature didn’t affect anything.

“It was good to see everyone running around, clicking, still having good tempo,” he said. “It’s still football. We’ve got to play whether it’s cold or hot.”