Vickers played five seasons in Cleveland before joining Houston in 2011.
IRVING, Texas - Though fullbacks are often some of the most overlooked players on the team, it will be bad news for the Cowboys if Lawrence Vickers is only remembered as the guy who got ants in his pants during a June organized team activity (OTA) practice.
As it turned out last year, Tony Fiammetta was far more than the only vegan on the Cowboys' roster. He was, in retrospect, one of the main reasons for the midseason rise of the running game, and when he had to miss time due to an inner ear infection, DeMarco Murray's production suffered.
The Cowboys made little effort to bring back Fiammetta, but by signing Vickers in March, they believe they added more power to a position that was quietly one of the most important on the team in 2011. The team was interested in Vickers when he was a free agent last offseason, but he instead chose to sign with Houston, which is closer to his hometown.
While Vickers is officially listed only eight pounds heavier, he is more of a traditional thumper than Fiammetta, who was adept at turning and steering his man. If Vickers can establish the same chemistry with the running backs that Fiammetta had found, the Cowboys could be in business.
"It's more of a feel thing," Vickers said. "We're going through, we're both seeing the same thing. I'm reading it as if I'm the running back. I'm not going where the hole is not. I know he isn't going there. And when it comes down to it, when I've got to make the hole, he knows I'm going to make it. So it's a trust thing, but at the same time it's repetition, it's us communicating, it's us getting on the same page. I'm going to keep working on it, and we're going to get it right."
Fiammetta isn't the only important offensive piece that left in free agency this offseason. Also gone are Laurent Robinson and Martellus Bennett. The Cowboys didn't make a huge effort to address the depth at wide receiver or tight end by bringing in veterans this offseason. Jason Garrett will utilize numerous personnel groupings on offense, but the Cowboys' best 11, it seems, will include a single tight end, Jason Witten, two receivers, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, a running back, Murray, and a fullback, Fiammetta.
Might the offense return to the power-I look that so benefited Emmitt Smith in the 1990s and early 2000s?
"I don't think it is a passing league," Garrett said. "If you're not a physical football team, if you're not willing to run the ball and defend the run, and you say, 'Hey, we're just going to throw it and defend the pass,' you're not going to be very good when it comes down to it. When you're trying to win playoff games and win Super Bowls and win championships, you better be a physical football team.
"Teams are throwing the ball more, there's no question about that, but it's not all about the passing game now. You have to still be a physical football team."
While home-run threat Felix Jones will also get some carries, expectations are that the more powerful Murray will be the Cowboys' workhorse, giving the team a shot at having its first 1,000-yard back since 2006. In Vickers, the Cowboys have added not only a strong and durable blocker, but one with a mean streak and a proven track record.
Vickers has led the way for a 1,000-yard rusher in four of the last five seasons.
"We've just been jelling really well together," Murray said. "We've been working hard, we've been talking before and after practice, talking during the day, just about his blocking scheme, what he's looking at, what he's seeing and vice versa."
Having succeeded in front of Jamal Lewis, Peyton Hillis and Arian Foster, Vickers has shown he can adjust to new runners.
"Even if I was going to be with the same guy, we approach it the same way every year, so it never changes for me," Vickers said. "It's as if we're just meeting each other and we've got to get on the right page. Chemistry is a must. Even being with somebody over two or three years ... you're going to have different linemen, you're going to be going against different defenses and different things will be going on.
"Once I get their running style down, it's up for me to adjust to them. That's how I feel. I would rather adjust to a running back than having a running back adjust to me. He's got too much to think about already."
It shouldn't take too long for Vickers and Murray to figure out one another. The fullback signed with Houston a week into training camp last year. He was stunned that his hometown team let him go in March, but the Cowboys were waiting with a two-year contract.
"It was a shocker," Vickers said. "I was shocked. ... But I guess they just didn't value the position. That's why I'm here, because (the Cowboys) value that position."