Eddie George: Ottis Anderson in Disguise?

The announcement Friday that the Cowboys had signed running back Eddie George hardly came as a surprise. Even before he was released in a salary-cap move by the Tennessee Titans, there was speculation that his imminent departure from the team could result in George heading to Big D.

In a radio interview a couple of days before he was cut by Tennessee, George identified Dallas, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia as possible destinations -- "IF" Tennessee gave him a pink slip. In other words, he already knew he was not going to get an offer from the Titans, and he already had started to plan his future.

Now the question becomes: what can be expected of George in Dallas?

Of course, the answer to the question won't be known until the season. Indications can be drawn from training camp and from preseason games, but much of the playing time in preseason games is given to a horde of marginal players fighting for the last spots on the roster, not to star players with eight years of experience and more than 10,000 career rushing yards. So what's seen in the preseason might not be an accurate indication of what to expect when the games count.

However, for head coach Bill Parcells, the signing of George is not without precedent. As coach of the New York Giants, Parcells took on running back Ottis Anderson, who the St. Louis Cardinals determined was on the downside of his career. Proving the Cardinals wrong, Anderson became the go-to back in New York, racking up nearly 2,300 more rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns -- and a Super Bowl MVP trophy -- as a member of the Giants. Anderson and George are similar in size and speed, and have similar running styles, and like Anderson, George is a viable receiving threat out of the backfield.

The most amazing factor in the Titans' decision to jettison their all-time rushing leader was the whispering about George's durability and health. Sure, he's taken a pounding in his first eight NFL seasons, and had surgery a few years ago on his toe. But his durability has been a strength, not a weakness; George has never missed a game in his NFL career, and his streak of 128 straight games rank him among the most durable backs of all time. He also is an adaptable player, having thrived first in the run-first offense that the Titans ran when he joined the team, and then under the pass-first attack the team ran (to take advantage of the talents of quarterback Steve McNair) the last couple of seasons -- a change that allowed him to average 29 fewer carries in his last three seasons (323) than he averaged over his first five (353).

George's attitude is ideal for Parcells' philosophy of putting the team before individual stars. During negotiations, George was told he'll have to compete with rookie Julius Jones for the starting running back job, a decision he said he respected. When asked if he's OK with the idea of sharing carries with an unproven rookie, he answered simply: "I'll have to be."

George's contributions to the Cowboys will me more numerous than simply carrying the ball. Known for keeping himself in impeccable physical condition (a habit that should not go unnoticed by the team's young players), George will serve as a mentor for Jones, a willing blocker in pass protection, a legitimate receiving threat and a stabilizing force in the locker room. Whether he can repeat Anderson's success on the field remains to be seen, of course, but the ingredients seem to be in place.

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