Is Plan B Richie Anderson?

When the Cowboys acquired Julius Jones with their first selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, there was little doubt that the organization would likely sign a veteran running back to compliment their newly found youth. Little did we know that "veteran" was already on the roster.

When the Cowboys released Troy Hambrick, it meant that the primary running back in the 2004 offense likely will be an unproven rookie: Julius Jones. But for all of Jones' talent, Dallas head coach Bill Parcells is not prone to leaving things to chance, which prompted widespread speculation that he would sign at least one veteran running back to bolster the backfield with an experienced backup.

But thus far, Parcells has not yet reached into the pool of castoff running backs from other teams.

As it turns out, the fall-back plan already was on the Dallas roster.

Fullback Richie Anderson was brought to Dallas in 2003 largely because of his blocking prowess, his receiving ability out of the backfield and his familiarity with Parcells and his system. Now it appears Anderson will split his time between fullback and halfback for the Cowboys.

"Richie Anderson is a veteran guy," Parcells said of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound 12-year pro. "We're going to use him more at halfback this year."

It's understandable that when Parcells said at the end of last season that he wanted to improve the team at every position, one of his primary target areas was running back. Hambrick led the team with 972 rushing yards in 2003, a number that was pedestrian at best. Take out Hambrick's 189-yard performance against the Washington Redskins' "olé" defense after the team seemingly had quit on then-coach Steve Spurrier, and Hambrick averaged a paltry 52.5 yards per game, a figure that does not lend itself to a successful career, especially when playing for a coach like Parcells who believes so strongly in the running game.

Therefore, it shocked nobody when Dallas spent its highest draft choice (after trading out of the first round) on Jones. Even after snatching the premier speed back in the draft, observers assumed the Cowboys would be quick to add a veteran back.

Don't bet on it.

"I don't tell Coach what I want to do, I do what he tells me," said Anderson. "But I'm looking forward to it."
The roster is thin at running back, where Jones, Anderson, fifth-year back Aveion Cason, third-year veteran Erik Bickerstaff (now injured and done for the year) and second-year man ReShard Lee round out the team's quartet of tailbacks. Cason rushed for 220 yards last year, with Lee picking up 56 … hardly numbers that jump out at the media or coaches.

Parcells says he has considered outside help, scanning the waiver wire as teams dump veterans in pursuit of a better grip on the salary cap. But he has yet to find a back with more wide-ranging skills than Anderson. For all the attention that Testaverde and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson have gotten for playing for Parcells in New York and now in Dallas, it is Anderson who might have the biggest impact on the offense. Anderson is a superior blocker, a better-than-average receiver out of the backfield and has deceptive speed.

To take on his new role carrying the ball, Anderson has shed 10 pounds since the end of last season. ("That wasn't a problem," he said. "I have more trouble keeping weight on than I do losing weight, so dropping the weight wasn't hard.") And while he sprouted a wide smile when asked about his new dual role, he insisted getting him the ball more in 2004 was Parcells' idea, not his own.

"Oh no, they came to me with that," he said. "I don't tell Coach what I want to do, I do what he tells me. But I'm looking forward to it."

Members of the media have been trumpeting the fact that no matter how talented Jones is, his youth and lack of experience and size make it a risk for the Cowboys to rely solely on him to carry the ball. Should he struggle to hold on to the ball or improve his blocking, or if he got hurt, the Cowboys' backup running backs were ill-prepared to carry the load, observers said.

Dallas still might sign a veteran runner to improve depth, depending on who is turned loose by other teams during the summer. But as it turns out, Plan B was in Dallas all along.

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