They have been afterthoughts. They are names from the past, quickly dismissed in the zeal to examine the newest candidates to be team saviors. They are Andre Gurode, Jacob Rogers, Torrin Tucker, Stephen Peterman and Eric Bickerstaff, and their timely returns may prove as valuable to the 2005 Cowboys as Demarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Anthony Henry or Marco Rivera's debuts.
Admit it, you've labeled them as busts and moved on. I have. They are ready-made stories of failure, just waiting for the right moment to be told. Were Gurode to be cut this month, the mediots would sigh and add his name to the growing list of busts from Jerry Jones' last pre-Parcells' draft, a list topped by Derek Ross and Antonio Bryant. Were Petereman, Rogers and Bickerstaff to vanish, none would be forgotten, since none have been seen on the field. Tucker, a long-shot free agent guard from Mississippi State, would be chalked up as a high risk failure, a guy who was simply asked to change too much.
This week, every one of them has earned a modest promotion. Peterman was given an exclusive at left guard while Larry Allen worked off his late preseason fat. Rogers, given a second chance at right tackle after rehabbing a shoulder injury, finally looks ready to assume the role. He won't get it without a stern challenge from Tucker, who seems to have finally mastered the mental tasks that bedeviled him last year, tasks that led to sacks and a late season benching.
Gurode, moved back to his natural position at center, after a hot-and-cold stint at right guard, may not only make the final roster, but push incumbent center Al Johnson to the bench. These four given Dallas the depth Parcells has craved since he took control in 2003. He has invested more money and high picks on the offensive line than on any other unit, including the secondary. With statuesque Drew Bledsoe at QB, and with Larry Allen and Marco Rivera on the wrong side of 30, the return of the young lions could not come at a better time.
The most unlikely return is that of Bickerstaff. He is a man without a pedigree. He did not play at Wisconsin, spending the end of his college career rehabbing a variety of injuries. He was recommended by team scouts after an eye-popping performance in the Badgers' spring game. That he is still on the team after two injury-filled pro seasons is testament to his raw ability. He has spent the past week alternating between fullback and running back and Parcells today made him a full-time fullback. He offers something rare at that position -- size and speed. At 230 lbs., he has the ability to rip off the big run. If he sticks, and this is far from assured, he can give the Dallas offense a dimension few others possess -- he can be a younger, taller version of Richie Anderson, or a speedier version of Mike Alstott.
When he returned to coaching, Parcells commented that modern speed defenses like Tampa Bay's, Atlanta's and Philadelphia's, which play their linebackers five yards off the ball, would be vulnerable to old-school fullbacks like Larry Csonka and his quick hitting traps and dives into the line. Because the linebackers are so deep, Parcells explained, the fullback would be three or four yards upfield before contact was made. But so few teams use their fullbacks to block, much less to run, that coordinators don't fear this play. If a big speedster like Bickerstaff ever lined up next to Julius Jones, Dallas could make these smallish defenses pay.
It remains to be seen how many of these five can earn a reprieve. Parcells is a firm believer in Tom Landry's maxim that a player has to show promise in his second year and perform in his third, or he is cut. All of these players are entering Parcells year three. If form holds, some will not only survive the camp, but thrive. Watch them closely.