Tyson Comes Out Fighting

Nearly a decade ago, a couple of famous football stars played football in a back yard behind a house in Irving: Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. "My brother was always Michael Irvin," Tyson Thompson said Sunday after the conclusion of the Dallas Cowboys' three-day rookie mini-camp at Valley Ranch.

"I was Emmitt Smith. I grew up watching the Cowboys, watching Emmitt. I always wanted to be Emmitt Smith. I always wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy."

Thompson has a chance to live out that dream, having been invited to take part in the team's mini-camp as a means of learning the nuances of the Dallas offense (and special teams). Julius Jones is entrenched as the team's top running back, and the team drafted Minnesota's Marion Barber III to be Jones' backup. But Thompson has a real chance to make the roster.

Thompson and Barber split the vast majority of carries over the last two days as they learned the basics of the Dallas rushing game. While they ran many of the same plays, each presents different assets for the Dallas offense.

Barber is thicker and stronger, with short steps that allow him to navigate through traffic on inside runs before accelerating into the clear. Thompson is better suited to waiting for a gap -- and then exploding through it.

"He's got speed," head coach Bill Parcells said Sunday. "Now, he's just a young guy who's going to have to study hard, and has to learn what to do, but he's definitely got speed.

"He runs a little high, though. He's going to get hit hard if he doesn't change that."

Thompson chuckled when told of Parcells' comments.

"Yeah, I've heard that before," he said. "Sometimes I run a little lower, sometimes I run a little too high. That's something I'm going to keep working on."

For years, it didn't matter how Thompson ran, just that he did. At nearby Irving High School, he made a mockery of area defenses, ripping through them like they'd forgotten to show up.

He drew statewide headlines when he ran for more than 500 yards in a single game, becoming one of the most coveted recruits in Texas. He signed with TCU (in the same recruiting class as UFA WR Reggie Harrell), but ended up going to Garden City (Kan.) Community College, before wrapping up his college career last season at San Jose State.

All along the way, the one thing people talked about was Thompson's speed. Even at San Jose State, where he led the team with a modest 811 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, opposing coaches feared Thompson's big-play ability because of his speed.

Although they never got the chance to play together in Fort Worth, Thompson and Harrell have known each other for years, going back to the days of running track against each other.

"I'm just glad we didn't run the same events," Harrell said. "A lot of guys are fast, but not like Thompson."

Of course, speed alone won't guarantee Thompson a spot on the team. In this weekend's mini-camp, he showed considerable promise as a receiver out of the backfield, and spent time fielding kicks.

"I returned kickoffs before, but I've never returned punts," Thompson said. "So that's something I'll have to get more comfortable with. But if that's what they want me to do, that's what I'll do. I'll kick the ball if they ask me to."

Not lost on Thompson is the significance of the fact that he spent the weekend wearing the jersey number -- 28 -- made famous by recently retired safety Darren Woodson.

"Words can't express how I feel to be wearing his number," Thompson said. "He's one of the greatest Cowboys of all time, and to wear his number … I just hope a little of his luck wears off on me, because this is where I want to play."

It's not that Thompson was without other options after going unchosen in the NFL draft. He said he was called by the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills ("and a couple of other teams,"), but when the call came from Dallas, there was no decision to be made.

"I had other choices, but this is my home team, the team I watched growing up," Thompson said. "I've always wanted to play in the NFL, but I really want to play for the Cowboys. Making this team would be a dream come true."

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