It's Jones or Bust

With Troy Hambrick gone and Erik Bickerstaff injured, the running back position is in a state of flux.

Rookie top pick Julius Jones will be the starter. But his backup remains a question, which is important considering the Cowboys still plan to use a running back by committee approach.

Bickerstaff was supposed to be the big back to counter the elusive Jones. But now that role might fall to first year player ReShard Lee, who showed glimpses in training camp last year before suffering a season ending knee injury. Lee is a solid 230 pounds.

Aveion Cason, who was considered too little last year to be an every down back, has added muscle to his frame, bulking up to 215 pounds and hopes to be part of the mix. And then there is former fullback Richie Anderson, who served in a quasi-running back-fullback role this year. The Cowboys, however, plan to be cautious with Anderson, choosing to use him mainly as the third down back to preserve his aging body and in hopes of getting maximum production.

Roster Exemptions
The NFL awarded the Cowboys six roster exemptions last week for sending four players to NFL Europe this spring.

Four Cowboys -- quarterback Chad Hutchinson, guard Dave Volk, safety Keith Davis and kicker Jonathan Ruffin -- played in the spring league.

The team received one exemption for each player, plus bonus exemptions for Hutchinson and Volk because they play premium positions.

The Cowboys have 89 players, and because of the exemptions, have to make only three cuts before training camp starts July 30 in Oxnard, Calif. The NFL roster limit for training camp is 80.

The bonus exemptions have to be placed on players with no more than a year's experience, and Dallas chose cornerback Terence Newman and tight end Jason Witten. Since those two are unlikely to be released, the club can make roster moves with any player, including the NFL Europe players, without losing the extra roster spots.

If the Cowboys cut any of the four players from NFL Europe, they will lose that roster exemption.

Being virtually assured of the bonus exemptions paves the way for the Cowboys to make a final decision on Hutchinson, who seems to be the odd man out at a stacked quarterback position that also includes Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Tony Romo. Coach Bill Parcells said he doesn't plan to take five quarterbacks to training camp.

If the Cowboys trade Hutchinson, he will count $2.4 million against the 2004 salary cap. If they release him, he will count $900,000 in 2004 and $1.5 million in 2005.

Hutchinson struggled in NFL Europe, throwing five touchdowns and four interceptions. He was sacked 25 times and fumbled in seven of eight games.

Quote to Note
"I don't think you can get wrapped up in peripheral issues. I really don't. This is a performance game and if you don't perform then I think you can lose your job because someone else is performing better. I don't buy that injury stuff. If someone is doing better than you were doing then why can't you lose your job to injury. Why can't you? That doesn't make sense to me." -- Cowboys coach Bill Parcells.

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