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Cowboys lose backup RB for season


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Nick Eatman

DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer

June 13, 2004, 4:43 p.m. (CDT)

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys are still more than six weeks away from the start of training camp, but have already lost a player for the season.

Backup running back Erik Bickerstaff, who was expected to battle for more carries this season, tore his Achilles tendon last week during a routine carry in practice.

Bickerstaff had surgery Friday and will be placed on injured reserve by the Cowboys this week, meaning he will miss the entire 2004 season.

The second-year pro from Wisconsin played in the final four games of last season, getting 19 carries for 59 yards. He also recorded two tackles on special teams.

The ruptured Achilles injury is considered one of the worst setbacks for any athlete, especially players at the skill positions, requiring quickness and speed.

It has been said former Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith was never the same player after he tore his Achilles in the 1995 season opener, although it was a bad back that ultimately ended his career just before the 2000 season.

Newly-acquired quarterback Vinny Testaverde suffered the injury in the 1999 season opener for Bill Parcells and the Jets. Testaverde missed the entire season and the Jets went from a 12-4 team (in 1998) to finishing 8-8. Testaverde did return the following year to start all 16 games for the Jets in 2000.

But the loss of Bickerstaff leaves the Cowboys without a power running back, a role Bickerstaff might have filled this year, especially on the goal line and in short-yardage situations.

The Cowboys drafted Julius Jones in the second round (43rd overall) and expect to give the former Notre Dame running back every opportunity to become the starter. Last month, the Cowboys released Troy Hambrick, a 16-game starter a year ago, conceivably paving the way for Jones to carry the load this year. Hambrick later signed a one-year deal with the Raiders.

However, Parcells has said on numerous occasions veteran fullback Richie Anderson would get more carries this season from the tailback position.

But the Cowboys did have high hopes for Bickerstaff, who played well last preseason (17 carries, 89 yards and one touchdown) and was expected to compete for a bigger role this year.

His loss leaves the Cowboys with just two true tailbacks, other than Jones, in Aveion Cason and ReShard Lee, and both are coming back from knee surgeries performed last year.

Cason, who led the Cowboys last year with a 5.5 yard average per carry, suffered a torn (ACL) anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in early December, forcing surgery and a spot on injured reserve. But not only has Cason returned from the injury, he has added nearly 15 pounds to his upper body, and now weighs closer to 215 pounds. He might be ready to take on a bigger load in the running game this year, if he can prove he can run between the tackles and pick up the blitz in the passing game.

Like Bickerstaff, Lee was another bright spot for the Cowboys before the season. He played well in the team's scrimmage against Houston in San Antonio, and rushed for 44 yards on 12 carries in the first two preseason games before he suffered a sprained MCL (medial collateral ligament) in his left knee. He was released with an injury settlement just before the start of the season, but rejoined the team on the practice squad in December.

Despite their knee injuries, Lee and Cason are probably two of the faster players on the team, and could provide an explosive punch in the return game, especially on kickoffs.

But the Cowboys have already proven this year that adding a veteran backup is a possibility.

They signed Testaverde to compete with Quincy Carter for the starting quarterback position, although the 40-year-old Testaverde will likely serve as a safety net, if Carter struggles this season.

So with their depth now dwindling at tailback, might the Cowboys look for a veteran this summer as well?

Like most positions this time of year, the options are slim on the free-agent market.

Former New England starter Antowain Smith is available, after the Patriots chose not to re-sign the seven-veteran. The Pats traded with Cincinnati to acquire Corey Dillon just before the draft.

Smith, 32, has rushed for 5,713 yards in his career, with two 1,000-yard seasons. Last year, Smith split time with New England's Kevin Faulk, and rushed for only 642 yards and three touchdowns. He spent the last three years with the Patriots, winning two Super Bowl rings, after four years in Buffalo.

Parcells should be familiar with Smith, who played against the Jets twice a year during Parcells' three seasons coaching in New York (1997-99).

But Smith might not be the only option for a veteran running back.

The Titans have yet to release veteran Eddie George, and there are reports Tennessee and the running back are working on a new contract.

But a deal has yet to be reached, and expect the Cowboys to keep a close on eye on that situation, before signing any other veteran running backs. George has rushed for 1,000 yards in seven of his eight pro seasons, missing the mark by just 61 yards in 2001. Last year, George rushed for 1,031 yards and his 3.3 average per carry was one of the lowest among starting backs.

But he does have more than 10,000 rushing yards in his career, and has scored at least five touchdowns in each of his eight seasons.

The same reason the Cowboys could be interested, is the same reason he could end up re-signing in Tennessee again, to likely finish his career.

And yet, the Cowboys could decide not to sign another running back to the mix.

After all, they drafted Jones with the intention of playing him early, and by cutting Hambrick, and now the recent injury to Bickerstaff, there isn't much left standing in his way.

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As much as I despise the Cowboys, the title of this thread is distasteful in that it appears to be rooting for injury.:nono:

Besides, this was a back-up running back who wasn't going to make a significant difference anyway.

Better to beat them mano a mano, strength to strength.

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My bad, guys. Not "rooting" for anyone to be injured. Just thought it would get attention to the thread to be "mysterious." I also meant that now The 'Boys have one LESS back after getting rid of Hambrick.

Really didn't intend such a poor choice of words.

Now "shake your finger" at someone else, China. :rolleyes:

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No need to be happy about an Injury, another drug bust yes but an injury no.

However, I do think this puts a lot of pressure on the already butter finger hands of Jones, and the Cowboys. Jones was a big time fumbler while in Notre Dame, and there's really no body behind him to even try to carry the team. I guess that move of dumping Hambrick wasn't such a smart idea.

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