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Jim Erkenbeck, who took over as line coach in Dallas in 1987, brought in the zone-blocking scheme that had been successful for him in New Orleans—the massive, hulking people blocking straight ahead with a power back close behind. Dorsett had made his living with the misdirection, toss plays and the trap. At times last year the Cowboys started three linemen who weighed more than 300 pounds. They were hardly mobile.
"It sounds good—big, young, zone-blocking offensive line," said Dallas fullback Timmy Newsome after last year's Dolphins game, "and when they're facing a defensive line that just sits there, it's fine. But Miami stunted a lot, and we couldn't handle it, and that's what happens to a big, young offensive line."
" Tony Dorsett hasn't lost a step," said veteran Dallas guard Brian Bal-dinger, who had been replaced by the jumbos. "He still sees things as quick as any runner in the league. We're changing so many things that the backs aren't on the same page. We're hitting and missing. What Tony did so well was hit in, suck everyone up and then bounce outside. Now it's all inside the tackles and make one cut."
The Broncos are just the opposite. Their guards, Stefan Humphries and Pro Bowler Keith Bishop, are mobile. So are the tackles, Ken Lanier and David Studdard, and center Billy Bryan. Reeves fashioned Denver's running game to resemble the rushing attack Dallas used to have, and it has been maligned in recent years, mainly because it lacked a breakaway back. But how many Dorsett-caliber breakaway backs are in the league—Walker, Bo Jackson, Dickerson on a good day, who else?
As a Tom Landry disciple, Reeves has always been dedicated to the ground game, despite Elway's presence. Last year only six teams ran more times than Denver, and only two scored more rushing TDs. However, in net rushing yards the Broncos ranked 12th. Dorsett's speed could fix that. "What excites me is his enthusiasm." says Reeves. "When I first sat down with Tony, I was excited because he was excited.
"If we get the ball to him 25 to 30 times a game, on runs and passes, I know things will happen, but it's a question of how much work you want to give him. I haven't really worked it out yet."
Reeves and Dorsett had dinner on June 2, the night before the trade was announced. "We talked football for a while," says Dorsett. "I thought, God, what a perfect situation for me. Contending team, same offense, coach I've worked with. Football had become a job last year, J-O-B. Now it's exciting again. I was thinking, as great a coach as Tom Landry was, and as much as I admired him, I don't remember ever having dinner with him—in 11 years in Dallas."
Rogers remained in the picture while Denver negotiated with the Cowboys. Dallas wanted the Broncos to pick up two fifths of Dorsett's $6 million annuity, from which he will receive the first of 20 $300,000 annual payments in 1996. Denver refused. Finally, Dorsett's accountant, Bill Love, dropped the request for annuity funding. The plan was replaced with an insurance policy—funded partly by Dallas, partly by Denver and partly by Dorsett—that guarantees him the annual $300,000 payment. Dorsett's two-year contract with the Broncos guarantees him an annual base salary of $500,000. but yardage and incentives could make him another $250,000 per season. "It's a better deal than I had in Dallas," he says, "which is another reason I'm excited."
Still, the nagging question remains: At age 34, how much fuel is left in the tank? He has carried the ball 2,755 times in his NFL career. Only three backs—Payton, Harris and John Riggins—have more attempts. That's a lot of hits for a 189-pound body.