ARTICLE: Hurd becoming known as more than TO's protege
August 9, 2006
OXNARD, Calif. -- Terrell Owens may be the best receiver in Dallas Cowboys training camp. Yet the guy making the best catches and biggest impression is his protege, Sam Hurd.
An undrafted rookie who wasn't even invited to the scouting combine, Hurd's combination of size, skill and smarts have made him the biggest surprise of camp.
Hurd first gained attention for buddying up to T.O., getting him to stay late after practice for one-on-one tutorials. The way he's played ever since is the focus now.
Check out these rave reviews:
-- Quarterback Drew Bledsoe: "The guy has been impressive. He's going up and catching the ball, coming up with big plays. We've asked him to play three positions and he played all three in the scrimmage without making any mistakes. That's pretty rare for a rookie."
-- Running back Julius Jones: "Sam Hurd is out there making plays. The way he's playing right now, (defenses) would have to respect him."
-- Third receiver Patrick Crayton, who made the team three years ago as a seventh-round pick: "He is really taking care of his business a whole lot. I think he's already overcome a lot of those odds."
-- And the critic Hurd most needs to win over, coach Bill Parcells: "He is young. He is inexperienced. But he is in very good physical condition. He has a lot of stamina. He's extremely bright. He knows more than one position already. I think he will be in contention for a roster spot based on what I have seen so far."
When Owens and fellow starting receiver Terry Glenn sat out Monday with injuries, Hurd worked with the first team in both practices. He fit in, too, stretching his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame as far left as possible to snatch a wayward pass from Bledsoe. He got more work with the first team Tuesday and Wednesday, even after Glenn returned.
"You can't help but notice some things he is doing," Parcells said.
Hurd caught five passes in a scrimmage Saturday, two going for more than 20 yards. That included an over-the-shoulder grab, one of the exact plays Owens has been teaching him how to make.
"Usually, I would've ran and my hands would've been flaring out, going wide," Hurd said. "But every day we work on keeping my hands together."
Parcells monitors that daily, along with some other bad habits that need to be broken.
"He's a work in progress," Parcells said. "He really does try to do well every day. You have hope for guys like that."
Poor technique can drop a guy a few spots in the draft, maybe even a few rounds. But this guy wasn't even among the 32 receivers taken.
Parcells said when scouts saw Hurd at Northern Illinois they wondered about his speed. Other knocks could've been that his numbers as a senior were better than his career totals to that point, and that he was pretty much shut down in four games, including by his toughest foe, Michigan.
Overall, though, his senior year was darn good: 65 catches for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns. Highlight performances included 12 catches, 266 yards and three TDs against Central Michigan; 14 catches and three TDs against Akron; and 223 yards against Miami (Ohio).
Several teams teased Hurd late in the draft. Then Dallas called when the draft was nearly done and invited the San Antonio native to training camp. He happily accepted.
"It just felt good to go back home," he said.
Hurd met Owens during one of his first workouts at team headquarters. The youngster initially feared that an established star wouldn't bother with a rookie. Owens spoke to him first, even challenging Hurd to "come after me."
"After that, every day he's been trying to help me get better," Hurd said. "He tells me not to just let him start, to make him compete every day. That'll make him better, too."
They spend about 30 minutes together after every practice. They're always working on specific types of catches, with Owens offering advice and tricks of the trade, such as how to use his long stride to sneak past a defensive back. Hurd also has begun following Owens' diet, laughing about how much salad he eats.
"He's going to be a great player," Owens said. "You can't say enough about his hands."
Whether Hurd becomes nothing more than a great camp story (like Beau Morgan) or a great NFL player (Drew Pearson) remains to be seen.
The Cowboys like what they've seen so far.
"Sometimes," Parcells said, "you can see something in someone and parlay that into a pretty good acquisition."