Full Attention Nothing New To Jones Nick Eatman DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer May 1, 2004, 5:55 p.m. (CDT) IRVING, Texas - As the Cowboys conduct their three-day mini-camp for rookies this weekend, all eyes are perched on this particular running back. Reporters hover around his locker after practice, with cameras and microphones pushed in his face. Questions about replacing a legend and filling the shoes of Emmitt Smith are flying. But yet, forgive rookie running back Julius Jones if he refuses to get caught up in the hype. This may be a new environment for Jones, but living the NFL lifestyle is something he's seen before, up close and personal. While getting drafted by the Cowboys in the second round last weekend was a big deal for Jones, he's not the first in his family to attract this kind of attention. In fact, his brother Thomas was the No. 6 overall pick by the Cardinals in the 2000 draft. So Julius knows what it's like to be in the spotlight, which is one reason why he's taking his first weekend in the NFL in full stride. "So far, it's been fine, nothing I didn't expect," Jones said in front of his locker Saturday afternoon, in between a pair of mini-camp practices. "It's great to be here in the NFL and with the Cowboys. This week is going pretty well for me. But it's just a learning process. I'm trying to get over that learning hump where I can just play and not have to worry about anything." But the bulk of the worrying should be behind Jones, who said he's just blessed to finally be in the NFL after a collegiate career filled with his share of highs and lows. The low point occurred just before his junior year at Notre Dame, where the school suspended him the entire season for failing to meet the school's academic requirements. With his collegiate, and ultimately NFL futures uncertain, Julius called on his older brother, who hadn't exactly lived up to great expectations to that point with the Cardinals. But out of school for a full year, Julius moved in with Thomas, even enrolling in classes at Arizona State. The brothers worked out religiously, both trying to get their careers and lives back in order. "That was a time when I had to make sure I was doing the right things and get my life where I needed to be," Julius Jones said. "I think we were good for each other. That time helped us both out." It worked for Julius, who returned to Notre Dame and rushed for 1,268 yards as a senior despite starting just seven games. He also set a school-record with 262 rushing yards against Pittsburgh, one of the few highlights in the Fighting Irish's 4-8 season last year. And while Julius Jones is where he wanted to be all along, getting drafted with the 43rd overall pick last weekend, his brother has turned his career around as well. After ending up in Tampa Bay last season, Thomas Jones rushed for 621 yards (4.6 yard avg.) and three touchdowns. He translated that into a free-agent contract with the Chicago Bears. "He had a good year in Tampa," Julius said of his older brother. "And now he's got a fresh start now in Chicago. So it's like we're both starting over." And the brothers could be the two starting tailbacks in a nationally-televised Thanksgiving Day game this November, when the Bears come to Texas Stadium for the traditional holiday event. What a made-for-TV feature. "I'm looking forward to playing against him," Jones said. "Hopefully, we can get a win. But I'm sure all my family will be here. That's something we've always dreamed about - playing in the NFL. Now we'll be playing against each other. So it's like a dream come true." But Jones will be the first to admit he has plenty of work to do before he becomes the starting running back here in Dallas. Naturally, his position, team, size, and even his college number have Jones being compared to Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher who made his mark in 13 years with the Cowboys. And while there could be worse players to be associated with, Jones said he's nowhere close to Smith's level just yet. "Anytime you get compared to Emmitt Smith, one of the best running backs to play the game, it's a huge compliment," Jones said. "But I know I can't be like Emmitt. I'm just going to go out there and play like I can play. That's all I can do. "Emmitt Smith is pretty much irreplaceable. I just have to go out and play within myself." In fact, Smith is a full year removed from the job Jones is trying to win. Last year, Troy Hambrick started all 16 games for the Cowboys at running back, rushing for just 972 yards, with a 3.5 yard average. Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells and owner and general manager Jerry Jones both said Friday the club has discussed the possibility of trading Hambrick, who just signed his one-year, $628,000 restricted free-agent tender with the Cowboys on Friday. However, Parcells said he met with Hambrick before the draft, warning him he could be dealt within the next few weeks, especially if the Cowboys drafted a "front-line runner." And while 42 players were selected in front of Jones, including four running backs, the Cowboys certainly consider their guy a front-line player. They had the opportunity to draft either Kevin Jones or Steven Jackson, the top two rated backs on most draft boards, with their original 22nd pick in the first round. But the Cowboys opted to trade down with Buffalo, picking up another second and fifth-round pick this year, along with the Bills' No. 1 pick in 2005. While getting that first-round pick was the added bonus, the Cowboys also just didn't think there was that much difference between Kevin Jones, Jackson, and Julius Jones. "They had a chance to pick whoever they wanted and they passed it up and got me," Jones said. "I just feel lucky and blessed. I'm glad to be here and hopefully I can make them happy they picked me. I'm going out to work out and do whatever they ask. If that's play on special teams, or third-down back, or be the starter, that's fine. I'm here to do whatever I can." And don't forget about the water boy. Jones has officially taken over Terence Newman's duties to deliver a cup of water to Parcells during every practice break. Newman, the Cowboys' top draft choice (5th overall) last year, brought the head coach water throughout the season. Now it's Jones' duty. "That's not so bad," Jones said of his most-defined role so far. "I just look at it as something to joke about it. It's nothing real serious. Bill Parcells is real cool about it. If that's what I got to do, then that's fine." Which says another thing about his stride.