Emmitt Smith and Troy Hambrick. Fred Taylor and Stacey Mack. The Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Two teams featuring two running backs in the spotlight, each with a proven superstar and a rising workhorse. At first glance the two teams might appear to be in similar situations in the backfield. They're not.
Earlier this week, Hambrick created tension in Dallas when he suggested that it was time for the NFL's all-time leading rusher to move on.
"I believe there is a time and a place for everybody. ... The day comes to call it quits." Hambrick said on a radio show Sunday.
In last Sunday's game against Indianapolis, Smith carried the ball eight times for 22 yards. Hambrick carried it seven times for 42 yards. Both players want the ball, but more than anything Smith wants to know what the Cowboys' plans are for him.
"Talk to me like a grown man," Smith said. "Respect me, because I respect them."
While all of this is going on in Dallas, the Cowboys' offense continues to struggle. The Cowboys haven't scored 20 points in a game since their second game of the season. Through 10 games they are averaging an NFL low 11.8 points per game.
The Jaguars are giving carries to two running backs as well, but there is no such controversy. Taylor and Mack each have their roles in Jacksonville's offense, and they understand that. Neither of the two are asking for more carries, or claiming the other is stealing his thunder. In fact, they can often be seen waving the other onto the field.
"People don't understand, they always ask me, 'Do you get upset when you do the work and Stacey gets the touchdown?'" Taylor said today. "No, if it's going to help us win the game I'm all for it."
Fred Taylor is the starter, and no one is questioning that. He is the explosive, big play threat that will get most of the carries. Mack is the short-yardage bull. But Mack is more than just a power back, he has shown the ability to break off the big run. In fact his per carry average (5.1) is higher than Taylor's (4.2) at this point in the season.
"He has confidence and he is a powerful young man, and he knows it. He likes the ball in his hand and he likes the opportunity to be challenged and to display the physical power that he has," Tom Coughlin said of Mack.
The two running backs provide a good insurance policy for Coughlin's offense. When Taylor went down with a season-ending injury last season, Mack stepped in and rushed for 877 yards on 213 carries. Coughlin, however, prefers having both backs available.
"They work well together. They understand each other. They understand the role that each of them play. They're very supportive of each other. They're good friends. It goes on and on," Coughlin said.
Fred Taylor affirms the supportive nature of his relationship with Mack.
"We talk all the time, and sometimes he's sitting there (watching the game saying) 'I'm on the sidelines, I'm not going to come in here, I want you to score, or I want you to do something good right here when the coach is trying to put me in," Taylor said of Mack. "And then I'm the same way."
But it could very easily be different. Mack is in the final year of his contract. A big year could mean big money in free agency, but Coughlin says he and Mack see eye-to-eye.
"I became aware of a comment that was made a week ago, and I just talk about focusing on right now and one day at a time, and let everything else take care of itself, and he agreed that's the way it should be," Coughlin said.
Two situations. Similar on paper…different everywhere else.