DTs Blade, Stewart pleasant surprises for Cowboys

Updated: October 2, 2003, 4:16 PM ET

IRVING, Texas -- Coming into this season, Willie Blade and Daleroy Stewart had spent a combined four years drawing NFL paychecks without ever playing a down.

Now, they're quickly becoming mainstays at defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys.

Blade earned a starting spot during training camp, lost it to injury and has reclaimed it the last two weeks. Stewart has shined as a backup at both tackle spots. Together, they've shored up a position that began the season as La'Roi Glover and a bunch of question marks.

Stewart had three tackles behind the line as Dallas stuffed the Jets' running game last Sunday. He and Blade will be needed to do the same Sunday when the Cowboys face Emmitt Smith and the Arizona Cardinals.

"Since we drafted those guys, they slipped, fell down, messed up," owner-general manager Jerry Jones said. "There's a lot of credit that's got to go to those guys for coming in this year, getting in position to compete and coming out here and playing well now."

Blade was a third-round pick in 2001. He was hurt in training camp and spent that season on injured reserve. He was cut at the end of training camp last season, then spent 15 games with Houston but was never active on game day. He was released in late December and re-signed with Dallas.

Stewart was a sixth-round draft pick in 2001 who spent what would have been his rookie season on the non-football injury list. He was inactive for all 16 games last season.

"Daleroy is probably the most improved guy we have," coach Bill Parcells said. "He's starting to get a pretty good feel of things. He's making a difference for us. And he gives us a little size presence in there that we didn't have."

Parcells said the 6-foot-4, 327-pound Stewart was tough to figure out because he's so quiet. While he responded to coaching, he had little to say otherwise.

"I didn't know, quite frankly, whether he had a good enough motor to want to be a player," Parcells said.

Parcells said another problem was that Stewart was rotated between the two tackle spots so often that he didn't get a chance to settle in at either. That left him tentative and slower to react.

Blade wasn't firing at full speed either. Parcells said there were times Blade looked so confused that "he was chasing cars."

Both barely made it out of training camp. One factor in their favor: Both were dedicated to Parcells' offseason training program. It's as a good lesson to any on-the-bubble player.

"If a guy won't go in there and lift those weights and run and get in shape and lose weight and do what he needs to do to get ready, very seldom do you find someone who will just be a player," Parcells said.

^------=

^STADIUM STORIES:@ Cowboys broadcaster Brad Sham has traded a microphone for a computer keyboard and written a book about his favorite stories. "Stadium Stories: Dallas Cowboys" is a great way for Sham to celebrate his 25th season with the team.

Anyone who has heard him call a game will feel like they're listening again when reading the lively 166-page paperback. It costs $8.95 and is published by The Globe Pequot Press.

In a dozen chapters, Sham recalls great players, great games and the lively debate of who should be in the Ring of Honor. The first chapter features his own behind-the-scenes stories.

Here's one he didn't tell: While researching the book, Sham spent a morning at Troy Aikman's house, then drove over to Emmitt Smith's place for another interview.

"It was every Cowboys fan's dream day," Sham said.

Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters -- the subjects of the "Ham 'n' Eggs" chapter in Sham's book -- have collaborated on another collection of Cowboys stories. Theirs is called "Tales from the Dallas Cowboys." The hardback costs $19.95 and is published by Sports Publishing LLC.

^------=

^THE TUNA & THE GENERAL:@ Parcells was visited Monday by good friend Bob Knight. The visit was social in the kind of crusty way you'd expect from the pair.

"Really he came by to say hello and bust my (chops)," Parcells said. "He's nice and relaxed. He doesn't have games."

Parcells said he was working out players while Knight, whose basketball season at Texas Tech doesn't tip off for weeks, enjoyed himself.

"He was really on the attack while he was here," Parcells said.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones enjoyed the visit too, saying "it was real interesting to be a part of that." He and Knight talked about how much time Parcells spends in the weight room, watching players work out and getting to know them. Knight told Jones he likes to do the same thing.

"He made the comment: 'This head coaching thing isn't just about giving a big halftime speech or before the game. It's in here, showing that you're holding the players accountable for this work in here that pays off for you.' "

^------=

^QUOTEBOX:@ Parcells became animated while discussing punt coverage, then finished his discourse by saying:

"It's enough to drive you nuts is what it is. It's the simplest stuff. You can't drill it enough. You've got to make them like trained pigs, they've got to smell it."

^------=

^MEOW!@ Parcells has a firm grasp of how seriously people take everything he says. He learned the hard way during his days coaching the Jets.

While discussing one of his many superstitions, Parcells explained that whenever a cat scurries in front of a car he's driving, he stops, backs up and crosses the path again. He referred to it as erasing a cat.

He didn't mean literally wiping out the furry creature. He meant eradicating whatever negative vibe the cat created. It would be like walking around a ladder after walking under it.

"Well, some people thought I meant that I was going to run over the cat," Parcells said. "I got 3,114 letters from the animal protection people calling me 'You killer, you.' That's the truth."

As reporters laughed, Parcells wasn't grinning.

"It's not funny when you're getting them," he said.

^------=

^EXTRA POINTS:@ The Cowboys have had three straight 100-yard receiving games for the first time since 1995. ... Parcells would like to see quarterback Quincy Carter improve his fake handoffs on play action. "I think he's in too much of a hurry. I don't think we're creating enough deception in that area," Parcells said. ... After Reggie Swinton was traded to Green Bay on Tuesday, he went into a roomful of reporters to say goodbye. Asked what the Cowboys got in return, he said: "I don't know. A sandwich?" Close: a seventh-round pick if he plays a certain number of games.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index