By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"A running game helps the offense to not be shaky," General Jerry opines. "Even the best quarterbacks, like Troy, would have had trouble without a solid running game...not that these guys are Troy."
Wow. A moment of candor and humor from the General. Wonders never cease.
He's right, you know. There's only so much responsibility and blame you can lay at the feet of whoever ends up being the starting quarterback. The supporting cast will have to make plays and take some of the pressure off, or at least assume some of the culpability. That's going to be a cute trick. The offense, in total, is more bizarre than anything witnessed in the California governor's recall.
The main receivers--Antonio Bryant, Terry Glenn and Joey Galloway--appear to be as good a group as there is in football. They'll need to be. Last year, the offense was 29th in the NFL in passing. From there, it's downhill.
At running back, Troy Hambrick is slated to replace Emmitt Smith, a "diamond among garbage" who left town for more money and an Arizona Cardinals jersey. What you're doing there, essentially, is trading the game's all-time leading rusher for a guy who amassed 317 yards on 79 carries. Feel confident about that?
"I think the running game will be a positive in the end," Hambrick says without offering the evidence to make me believe him. "Parcells wants us to establish a running game, and I want to help him do that. I want the running game to be the focal point of the offense. When all is said and done, I think the running game will be the focal point. But we're in between quarterbacks right now; we're trying to stabilize the quarterback."
Good stuff. The owner and the quarterbacks say the offense won't work without a running game, and the runners say the offense won't work without a passing game. And around and around we go. Anyone dizzy yet?
Former Cardinals and Jets running back Adrian Murrell has been brought into the stable. The immediate assumption from the media was that Parcells was displeased with Hambrick's effort, or that he wanted to push Hambrick a bit. Apparently, we're all dolts.
"You guys are unbelievable with this stuff," Parcells says, chuckling a bit. Either this tickles him, or it's all he can do to avoid attacking his inquisitors and swallowing a few of them whole. "I don't see him as a feature back. Not right now. I'm just at a point in time where we still have that luxury of looking at things. What's the downside? There's no message there. What message would I be sending? I'm trying to get the best 53 guys on this team. That's my job. You guys better get used to that this first year, because the bottom of this roster is gonna be...churnable...if that's a word."
For years, the Boys' saving grace on offense was its line. No more. Last year that unit was a wreck, surrendering 54 sacks (or 30 more than their opponents allowed). The idea this season was to fine-tune the line by drafting center Al Johnson from Wisconsin with a second-round pick and reinstalling a healthy, slimmer Larry Allen. Problem is, Johnson sprained his right knee early in camp, had surgery and will miss the entire season. Allen, meanwhile, is as chunky as ever and hasn't demonstrated to anyone that he's capable of regaining his Pro Bowl form. While suffering a "puffy ankle," Allen has begged out of practice. Instead he's been riding a stationary bike, spending so much time on it that ESPN/NBC personality Newy Scruggs has taken to calling it the "Tour de Larry." (He didn't play against the Texans, but he did feel good enough to put himself on the first team, after practicing with the second unit, the day that Parcells walked out of practice. Awe-some.) His unwillingness to get into the fray has certainly worn on Parcells, who hardly sounds like an Allen proponent when he says, "If Larry is there, he's there. If he's not, he's not, and we'll just have to deal with that."
"I don't see why our offensive line won't be able to hold up," offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon says, playing good cop. "We just have to get the right five on the field and get them some reps. Right now, we're still looking at young linemen and trying to get the right combination together."
He could be right. This group might be cohesive enough to stop the opposition from burying Carter or Hutchinson or some other poor sap six feet under the turf. Then, given what I've seen, the O-line might want to consider letting the other team take free shots at the quarterbacks.
An idea I've been marinating: Parcells ought to treat his offensive players, and particularly the QBs, the way NASA handled the chimp training program for Project Mercury--with operant conditioning. If they make a good play, they get a cookie. If they screw up, they get an electroshock on the soles of their feet. Or, if they're into kink, reverse that.