Cowboys treading carefully with Smith

The official passing of the torch from legendary running back Emmitt Smith to backup Troy Hambrick is being formulated at the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch training headquarters.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet said Wednesday that he has been "told" to play Hambrick more because "we are going to see what we got there...for the future."

"We are just going to send him," Coslet said of Hambrick. "He has played some. It's not like we haven't been using him. We are going to try to get him in a little more on first and second down."

The Cowboys (3-6) still have to sort out Smith's future. They also need to find out if Hambrick, in his third year, is ready for a leading role or whether they need to get a running back in free agency or the 2003 draft.

Smith, 33, has said he does not plan on retiring. He is also not expected to return in 2003 at his current salary rate of $7 million, if at all. However, those are decisions Smith prefers to deal with at the end of the season.

"I don't want to deal with it," Smith said. "You are not the general manager. Nobody in here makes these decisions. Until they talk to me about it, there is no using having this discussion. I don't need to waste my time talking about it."

That the Cowboys have decided to use this time to begin a deeper evaluation of Hambrick is no surprise. The team planned all along to increase Hambrick's role once Smith surpassed Walter Payton as the NFL's rushing king. Smith, who has 595 yards and two touchdowns on 147 carries, did that two games ago against Seattle. Hambrick has rushed 36 times for 146 yards through nine games.

Now that the Cowboys are essentially out of the playoff race with seven games to go, the team has begun the process of evaluating a lot of young players to determine if they are future cornerstones for the franchise. The only difference with Hambrick is that his increased usage could potentially tarnish the legacy of Smith, who is arguably the best player in team history.

That's one reason why the Cowboys are treading carefully when talk turns to how they will use Smith and Hambrick over the final seven games. Two days ago, coach Dave Campo, in trying to down play the situation, said "you won't see a noticeable difference."

Wednesday, however, he said "there is not a set situation. (Hambrick) will get some series. It's how the game is going."

Campo said he been up front with Smith all along.

"I have been talking to Emmitt all season about Hambrick being a change of pace to keep him healthy and we needed to see where we are with Hambrick. (Yes), we are making more of an emphasis this week."

In owner Jerry Jones' perfect world, the Cowboys would get their 28th-ranked offense going to the point where they would run so many plays to accommodate Smith still getting his roughly 16 carries a game and an increase for Hambrick from his four carries a game. Considering the Cowboys are playing a rookie quarterback in Chad Hutchinson and the well-documented troubles on the offensive line, that's not likely.

A more realistic Jones, however, acknowledges that the role change will probably approach a complete sharing of the position.

"We are probably going to see a sharing of the work load at running back," Jones said. "If the work load isn't bigger then you could have a reduced work load for Emmitt. It's conceivable to me that he will have games with 11 carries and somebody else would get 11 carries."

Scout NFL Network Top Stories