- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

SAN ANTONIO — Succeeding a legend isn’t easy, especially in Texas where everything, even the legends, is bigger.

However, Troy Hambrick isn’t cowed by the prospect of replacing Dallas Cowboys hero Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s career rushing leader who was cut Feb. 27 for age and financial reasons and is now with Arizona.

In fact, few things shake the confidence of Hambrick, who last year said he was better than Smith.

“This is my time,” the 26-year-old Hambrick said after a training camp practice in the Alamodome. “We’ve been waiting on Emmitt to retire or make his move. I’m quite sure that Emmitt had [the shadows of Cowboys greats] Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker over him until he proved himself. Of course, I see it as a breakout year. Every time I touch the ball, it’s a breakout carry.”

Before Hambrick could begin to think of breaking out, he had to break away from the dinner table. When offseason workouts began in March, Hambrick was packing 260 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. New coach Bill Parcells told him that even at 250 would be too much. So, Hambrick reported to camp a shade under his assigned 233 and still labored under Parcells’ workout. Hambrick said Friday’s trio of 300-yard shuttle runs might have been the hardest of his life.

“It was a bigger fuss than I thought it was going to be, but the coaches didn’t feel that 245 to 250 pounds would give me the stamina or durability to run the ball,” Hambrick said. “Coach Parcells wants us to be lean and mean and ready to run.”

Although Parcells and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, his lone protege on the staff, pointedly didn’t praise Hambrick’s first practices, there’s little doubt that the one-time South Carolina standout can be a fine back.

Hambrick wasn’t drafted out of Savannah State — where he transferred before his senior year after a disagreement with new Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz — but in his second season in Dallas, he started 11 games (nine at fullback). Hambrick ripped off an 80-yard run, longer than any of Smith’s 4,052 career carries, in Week 3 and powered for 127 yards on 20 attempts in just his third start. His 5.1-yard average for the season ranked third in the NFL. Hambrick slipped to a respectable 4.0-yard average last year when he was strictly a backup. But now the spotlight beckons.

“Coach Parcells is a ball-control coach and I feel like I can carry the load,” said Hambrick, who’s trying to hold off smaller but quicker fellow fourth-year man Michael Wiley. “I’ve got to show him that I can carry eight plays in a row. The pressure to perform in the No.1 spot and giving my team something to look forward to when I touch the ball is enough that I’m not really worried about the next guy. It’s a great opportunity. I hope I can hold onto it. Hopefully I can make enough plays so Coach Parcells will look to hand me the ball. He’s coached some great running backs, and I want to be the next one.”

Before Hambrick can join the likes of Joe Morris, O.J. Anderson and Curtis Martin, he has to impress Parcells and Carthon.

“Troy works hard, but I can’t make any judgments yet,” said Carthon, who has played or coached for Parcells for 14 years. “I need to see Troy in live action, in the scrimmage [Saturday night against Houston] and the preseason. I look for a guy who can make plays when the blocking breaks down and it looks like there’s nothing there. Sometimes you’ve got to find a way to make yards.”

Coaching intern Dave Meggett, another Parcells disciple, was walking off the field with Hambrick on Saturday when Parcells stopped them.

“I said, ‘Meggett, you better tell him what it’s going be like,’” Parcells recalled with a smile. “He said, ‘If I do, he might leave.’ He was just teasing.”

But Parcells and Carthon aren’t kidding about the possibility of splitting up Smith’s old job.

“I would’ve liked to seen Troy run a little better than he did,” Parcells said after the opening practice. “We’ll give Troy the ball enough to where we get a good sense [of whether he can be a No. 1 back], but we might just have to do it a little differently than when you had a great back like was here so many years. I’m pretty tough on running backs. It’s not an easy position to play. It’s a position that can provide encouragement to your opponent if your runner seems to be a discourageable type guy. If he puts his toe in the water to see how cold it is and he doesn’t like it, those defensive players know that. I coached defense all my life. We were always looking for those toe-dippers.”

Hambrick doesn’t plan to dip his toe. He’s ready to jump in with both feet.

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