A New Leaf for Hambrick?

Troy Hambrick has been the subject of so much controversy in Dallas, that it's almost become a joke. However, now that Emmitt Smith is no longer wearing the silver and blue, it's Hambrick who's doing all the laughing.

In the past the question would have been so juicy that Cowboys running back Troy Hambrick couldn't nor wouldn't pass up. Showing political restraint certainly wasn't part of Hambrick's makeup especially when it concerned his personal brand of the truth. But of course then, he had nothing to lose.

With Sunday's season opener against Atlanta only days away, Hambrick's dream of replacing the departed Emmitt Smith in the Cowboys starting lineup is secure.

Yet, a measured and maturing Hambrick thought long and hard before turning down a quest to predict whether he would rush for more yards this season than his predecessor would with the Cardinals.

"I know that's popular poll question," Hambrick acknowledged with a wry smile. "But I need to stay away from that. I just talked to Emmitt and I don't need him mad at me again."

Besides, said the self-assured Hambrick, whose cocky brand of confidence was at the root of his openly challenging Smith's status as the best running back in Dallas last season, his goal in 2003 is not just to out gain the league's all-time leading rusher but every other running back in the league.

"I have a lot of goals and dreams," Hambrick said. "This is just the beginning. I am not going to take it for granted. I know I still have a lot prove. Every thing I said in the past was the truth. I may have said it at the wrong time or in the wrong context but it was on my heart. Now I just want to play football. Here it is. I don't want to do anything on or off the field to blow my opportunity."

--Just in case there was anybody still in doubt as to who is in charge of the Cowboys, coach Bill Parcells clued them in.

He is.

He decides what 53 players to keep. He decides who starts. And he calls the plays.

"Yeah, I would say so," Parcells said casually, as if who would call the offensive plays had not been one of the biggest questions of training camp. "I've been doing it."

Parcells said he called "pretty much 100 percent" of the plays in the Cowboys' 52-13 victory against Oakland in the preseason finale. He estimates he called probably three-fourths of the plays in their 15-14 preseason loss to Pittsburgh.

"But it's a three-way deal. I'm getting help from (offensive coordinator Maurice) Mo (Carthon) and (quarterbacks coach) Sean (Payton)," Parcells said. "Is it by committee? Yeah, it really is by committee." Final decisions, though, require a majority of one. One Bill Parcells.

Which is a far cry from what happened last season when, late in a game against San Francisco, former Cowboys coach Dave Campo went with the opinion of his offensive coordinator and special teams coach to kick a field goal on fourth down rather than go for it. The field goal failed. The 49ers scored the go-ahead touchdown. And the loss was basically the beginning of the end for Campo.

Don't expect any such democracy under Parcells.

"Hey, I might as well do it," he said. "I'm going to get the blame for it."

In the Cowboys' system, the coaches are responsible for calling the plays, formations and making personnel substitutions. All quarterback Quincy Carter has to do is "be a little robotic in terms of play calling." Parcells said this is something he has always done and not because Carter is inexperienced.

--Quarterback Neil O'Donnell and safety Lawyer Milloy, two former Bill Parcells players, found themselves unemployed after the holiday weekend.

Milloy signed with Buffalo, and while the Cowboys are iffy at quarterback, they had a chance to acquire O'Donnell when he was unsigned in early July and didn't bite.

"We haven't contacted Neil O'Donnell," Parcells said. "I don't anticipate contacting Neil."

Which is not to say he won't or wouldn't. Parcells has been saying from the day he arrived that the roster is churnable. Just because a player is on the 53-man roster against Atlanta doesn't mean he will be there against the NY Giants. And just because a player isn't on the roster against the Falcons doesn't mean he won't be against the Giants. Especially if said player would qualify as a vested veteran.

Signing a player such as O'Donnell for Week 1 means his contract is guaranteed for the whole season.

"Most laymen think you got your 53, you got your practice squad, now it is time to go play, but that is not what an improving organization does," Parcells said. "You become more vigilant now because your opportunities are disappearing."

Two other players who fall under the vested veteran issue are running back Adrian Murrell, who was in camp but cut, and cornerback Ray Crockett, who tried out for the Cowboys on Monday.

"I think the biggest concern starting the weekend was the cornerback position," Parcells said.

The Cowboys claimed Jameel Powell from the Lions after learning, in addition to Derek Ross missing the first three games, that Donald Mitchell would be placed on injured reserve. But Crockett could be a good solution for the rest of the season with hopes of slipping Powell onto the practice squad.

--Safety/kick returner Woody Dantzler, who was cut by the Cowboys on Monday, was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. The Falcons will use him as a backup running back.

-- The Cowboys signed former TCU receiver Cedric James to the practice squad.

-- Bill Parcells announced Matt Lehr would start at center with Gennaro DiNapoli rotating in.

BY THE NUMBERS
4 - Number of years since the Cowboys have won their season opener.

30- Number of openers won the by the Cowboys as part of their 30-12-1 NFC-best opening day record.

2 - Number of Pro Bowl players drafted by the Cowboys since 1994, including guard Larry Allen and linebacker Dexter Coakley.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"I hope we are closer to a playoff team than going backwards. But a year from now I might be saying hey we are starting over." Bill Parcells.

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