Troy Hambrick, Cowboys RB
His reign as the Dallas Cowboys' starting tailback could be short-lived, since it's pretty widely assumed that coach Bill Parcells will upgrade the position in 2004, so let's give Troy Hambrick some props for his performance in Sunday's victory at Washington. With the Cowboys coming off consecutive defeats, and Parcells suggesting his team would not recover psychologically from a third straight loss, Hambrick provided most of the offense in the rain and muck of FedEx Field. He had career highs for rushes (33) and for rushing yards (189), and his only failure was not getting into the end zone. On a day when Quincy Carter was again sporadic, and when the elements mandated simplicity, Hambrick was the Dallas go-to guy. The Cowboys now have nine victories and no one, probably not even Parcells or owner Jerry Jones, would have thought that possible when the team was in training camp. Hambrick has 910 rushing yards and, in his first (and maybe only) season as the starter, is all but certain to go over the 1,000-yard mark.
Comments elicited from one AFC college scout and one NFC pro scout:
"He might not break the bank, at least not to the extent he will want to, but a guy we like already in free agency is (Seattle wide receiver) Darrell Jackson. Since he isn't the classic 'lead' receiver, there's only so much any team will pay him, including us, even though he is near the top of our (unrestricted) list. But he is very good, has some surprising speed, and he makes plays. Yeah, I know all about all those (dropped passes) this year, and you can't ignore that. But he is very quietly over 1,000 yards for the year, which many people might not realize, and in the last four games (26 catches, 423 yards, five touchdowns), he has been something else."
"(New England offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis really deserves a shot at one of the coming head coaching openings. He's more creative then he ever gets credit for and he's upgraded that passing game, even though he's mostly worked with a lot of kids. Their tight end, (Daniel) Graham, is a good example of how Weis will make a guy better. Graham wasn't very good last season, still isn't a great two-way tight end, but has become a real factor in the Patriots' passing game."
"Even though Jon Gruden already has one of the top offensive line coaches in the league, I'm hearing he could bring Bill Callahan to Tampa Bay next year, assuming he's fired by the Raiders. Then again, as bad as the Bucs line is, maybe they need two coaches as good as Muir and Callahan to get that bunch straightened out."
"Boy, nice move by (offensive line coach) Kim Helton in Washington, huh? The media gives him a chance to talk about how the line has improved recently, and how does he respond, huh? He tells people the line isn't really playing much better, but that the backup quarterback (Tim Hasselbeck) has made a difference. Talk about professional suicide. Basically, the guy ripped (injured) starter Patrick Ramsey, who clearly is the No. 1 guy and a player who is respected in the Redskins locker room and around the league. So what's the difference between Ramsey and Helton? Well, the first will be back in Washington in 2004 and Helton won't be. The only thing that can save him is that (Steve) Spurrier's contract gives him control over the staffing and maybe he would fight (owner) Dan Snyder on some things. But then again, Spurrier essentially fired Helton once already this year."
"If I'm (Vikings coach) Mike Tice, I might consider jumping off a bridge. His punter blows a play Sunday by dropping a snap. And then (quarterback Daunte) Culpepper throws a 'pick' in the end zone at the end of the game, in a situation where you've got a sure-fire field goal to send the thing into overtime. Yeah, the Bears defender (cornerback Charles Tillman) made a heck of a play to take the ball away from Randy Moss. But, look, the quarterback has to put the ball where either Moss catches it or no one does."
"I really like (Houston head coach) Dom Capers, but what ever happened to all that (talk) about how his defensive scheme would create a lot of sack opportunities? I mean, they've got just 18 sacks in 14 games, and no player has more than four (sacks). Hey, schemes are great, but you still need players who can make plays, and all those linebackers they brought there to sack the quarterback are not getting the job done."
"I continue to be amazed by the receiving skills of (San Diego tailback LaDainian) Tomlinson. The guy never had to catch the ball at TCU. He's a great example at working to make yourself better at a key skill. He's had 20 catches for about 300 yards (actually 292 yards) the last two weeks. And he's had four scores as a receiver in those games. The guy is extraordinary."
"I watched the end of the Rams game on Sunday and was sick. The guy in their secondary who kept making plays was (journeyman safety Rich) Coady. You know what? I've always liked that guy as kind of a 'dime' player and special teams guy. But my coaches don't like him at all. To me, he's one of those spare parts you like to have around. I just can't sell our staff on him."
"Even though Oakland won on Sunday, it looks like (coach Bill) Callahan is gone. The best thing Al Davis could do, which means he won't do it, is get away from this idea of hiring inexperienced guys, coaches who have never been the top dog and are beholden to him. He ought to quit dancing around that old flirtation with Denny Green and hire the guy. He'd have the Raiders back in the playoffs pretty quickly. Sure, there's a ton of age on that roster, but there are some young guys who can play. Green is the best guy out there. The teams who are scared of him, like Atlanta from what I hear, are crazy."
Every year, during the so-called "hiring and firing season," there is a surprise dismissal of a head coach. Last year, it was the exit of Steve Mariucci in San Francisco that surprised a lot of observers. This season's possible "surprise" guy? It could be Mike Holmgren of Seattle, which continued its road struggles in Sunday's defeat at St. Louis, a shortcoming that could well keep the Seahawks out of the playoffs. Holmgren surrendered his general manager duties this spring, did a terrific job early on in focusing on what he does best, but could miss the postseason play for the fourth time in five seasons. ... Don't discount Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders as a big-time candidate for the opening at the University of Nebraska. If you're into connecting the dots, Saunders' daughter played soccer at Nebraska, graduating a couple years ago. But beyond that, there are a ton of rumors in the coaching fraternity that Saunders could be the guy for the Cornhuskers. The new athletic director, Steve Pederson, is laying low. But he's told some confidants that, if he gets the guy he wants, it will be worth the wait. Of course, if Saunders is now the top candidate, Nebraska might have to wait a while, if the Chiefs go deep into the playoffs. ... Jets coach Herm Edwards desperately wants to get defensive line coach Rod Marinelli away from the Bucs to serve as his coordinator in 2004. There are also rumblings that, even if New York rallies to finish 8-8 (a remarkable feat, given the wrist injury to Chad Pennington, and the club's poor start), someone in the front office could be made out to be a scapegoat. And that someone, the whispers insist, is not general manager Terry Bradway. ... The Ravens have $22 million in cap room for next season, and that should be more than enough to allow Baltimore to retain its pending five unrestricted free agents (including star cornerback Chris McAlister), and do a little shopping as well. Near the top of the Ravens' free agent wish list ought to be a big-time wide receiver. It's remarkable the Ravens have gotten this far without an impact wideout. ... Houston salary cap expert Dan Ferens may depart the Texans at the end of the season. ... Although team officials deny it, New York Giants coach Jim Fassel has been apprised he won't be back in 2004. Don't be surprised if Fassel resurfaces in Arizona, where good guy Dave McGinnis is a goner. The Cardinals are also said to be looking at Kirk Ferentz of Iowa. ... In the ever-changing world of Dick Jauron, the pendulum may have swung back his way again on Sunday, with the Bears' victory over Minnesota. It looks like Jauron still has an outside chance of salvaging his job, but would have to make some staffing changes, and those likely would include dumping offensive coordinator John Shoop. ... Given his recent strong performance since replacing Michael Pittman as the starter, several teams now have Tampa Bay tailback Thomas Jones on their radar for free agency. The onetime first-round flop has played well and will make some team a dependable backup, probably at a reasonable price, once he hits the free agent market.