Cowboys shuffling their backfield

Updated: October 29, 2003, 7:42 PM ET

IRVING, Texas -- Troy Hambrick is struggling. Richie Anderson is hurting. And the Dallas Cowboys are going into the make-or-break part of their schedule.

With a little of each in mind, Bill Parcells signed Adrian Murrell on Wednesday to add more versatility to the Cowboys' running game.

What exactly Murrell will add remains to be seen.

A 1,000-yard rusher from 1996-98, Murrell last played as a backup for Washington in 2000. He came back this summer, spending three weeks in training camp with Dallas because he wanted to play for Parcells. He was told up front that he'd be released before the opener because of salary-cap reasons, but to stay in shape because he might be called back.

Murrell's style fits what the Cowboys need -- a hybrid of bruising runner Hambrick and quick, outside-the-tackles back Aveion Cason.

"I brought him in with the idea of getting him ready to play," Parcells said. "I hope to integrate him into the system and see how it goes. I have an idea of what he was able to once do. And I think there is a place for that if we can get back some version of Adrian Murrell."

Murrell, 33, takes the roster spot of center Gennaro DiNapoli, who was placed on injured reserve with a sprained right ankle that could require surgery.

"Hopefully I can show something throughout this week that gives them confidence to put me in and play," Murrell said. "I'm not here to be featured. I'm just here to have an opportunity to get a couple of snaps and do well when I get that opportunity."

Murrell comes in a few days after the Cowboys ran for just 60 yards in a 16-0 loss to Tampa Bay and a few days before Dallas plays Washington.

The Cowboys (5-2) are about to start a run of five games in 25 days, with four at home. The Redskins are the only team in that stretch with a losing record.

So Parcells has dubbed November "showtime," challenging his NFC East-leading team to emerge still in the playoff chase in December.

"If we play good football now ... then I think we'll have a chance," Parcells said. "If we don't, then I think we'll be a middle-of-the-pack or less team. Simple as that."

How Murrell's arrival fits in was one of many questions Parcells didn't directly answer.

The obvious part is that Murrell can replace Anderson's averages of 5.3 carries and 2.3 catches if Anderson doesn't play Sunday.

Anderson was held out of practice Wednesday because of a muscle problem near his shoulder that causes tingling in his hands. He's listed as questionable.

But Anderson is a fullback; Murrell isn't. Parcells said that if Anderson plays, Murrell could be active too.

So maybe Murrell was brought in to spur Hambrick.

After three seasons as Emmitt Smith's backup, Hambrick is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry in his first chance to be the featured back. Of his 137 carries, 24 have lost yards; that's the highest total in the NFL.

He had only 25 yards against the Buccaneers, with no carries in the second half. The Cowboys failed on five chances when facing third- or fourth-and-1, a failure that can only partly be credited to Tampa's defense.

Dallas is 11th in NFL at 124 rushing yards per game. That total, though, is a byproduct of the Cowboys having run more times than all but one team, Carolina. Their average of 3.6 yards per carry is better than only six teams.

"Is it as efficient as we'd like it to be? No," Parcells said. "But is it a disaster? No. I don't think it has been."

Murrell is getting a chance because he's available and because he has a history with Parcells.

Murrell gained 1,086 yards for him with the Jets in 1997, then Parcells traded Murrell to Arizona after landing Curtis Martin. The player and coach remained friendly enough that when Parcells joined the Cowboys, Murrell wanted to also.

After turning six carries into 24 yards and a touchdown in his only preseason game, Murrell returned to Phoenix, where he owns a water treatment business. He ran often, losing about a dozen pounds to get to 212, the low end of what he considers his prime weight.

He spoke to Parcells only once the past seven weeks before getting the job offer Monday. He quickly accepted and slipped into a No. 26 jersey for practice Wednesday afternoon.

"This player is not player who is physically debilitated to the point where you don't see ability. I saw that in preseason," Parcells said. "Hopefully, we could use him and he will give us another player that has a chance to help us."< ^Extra points:@ Murrell's career numbers: 5,092 yards on 1,347 carries, an average of 3.8, with 23 TDs over eight seasons (1993-97, Jets; '98-99, Cardinals, 2000 Redskins). ... Without DiNapoli, Tyson Walter will be the backup center, meaning he'll play less at guard. Kurt Vollers already has been working at both guard spots. Tackle Javiar Collins will begin working some at guard. ... TE James Whalen is questionable this week because of a hamstring problem that kept him out of the last game.

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