Cowboys shuffling their backfield

Updated: October 30, 2003, 9:27 AM ET
ESPN

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 are 5-2, leading the NFC East. The Redskins are the only team they play in November that currently has a losing record.

Murrell provides someone who can replace Anderson's averages of 5.3 carries and 2.3 catches if he 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. And 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.

As a team, Dallas is 11th in NFL at 124 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."

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