By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Still, there are bigger issues with this offense than whether Johnson will be able to play nice with the rest of the children. Regardless of what people think of him, he remains one of the more talented receivers in the league. You know, more or less, that he'll be able to do whatever Parcells asks of him. And besides that, the receivers weren't a huge problem last year, nor should they be this season. With the rest of the offense, though, there is less certainty.
During the draft, the Cowboys had a chance to select one of two running backs nearly everyone considered to be the best options available. (The Cowboys averaged 124.9 yards rushing per game, good for 12th in the NFL. The problem was only three teams in the league ran the ball more than the Cowboys, so they had to work a lot harder than everyone else for that yardage.) Instead, Dallas traded down and selected Julius Jones in the second round. He's since looked the most qualified of any of the backs in the preseason.
In the off-season they also picked up Eddie George when Tennessee decided that he'd outgrown his usefulness. The soon-to-be 31-year-old rushed for 1,031 yards as a Titan last year, but he averaged an unspectacular 3.3 yards per carry (the second-lowest in his eight years in the NFL). Along with Richie Anderson and a cast of fill-ins, the Cowboys hope their halfback committee will be able to do what Troy Hambrick couldn't last year--ease the pressure on the passing game. Hambrick rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards as the team's lead back (or approximately 60 yards per game), so it shouldn't be too difficult for the newbies to exceed those numbers. That's what they're hoping. (It would be awfully hard for them to do any worse than Hambrick. Hell, you couldn't do much worse.)
If the running game doesn't evolve, it could be potentially disastrous for the Cowboys' offense. Now that Quincy Carter has been released, the quarterback duties are left to Testaverde. Parcells says there won't be a psychological hangover stemming from Carter's abrupt dismissal and the controversy surrounding what drugs he might have taken and whether the Cowboys administered a drug test in violation of league rules. But I think that represents a lot of drama--a starting quarterback who doesn't make it out of camp, drugs, illegal tests and an unforeseen dismissal--that would be hard to forget overnight.
Even if the Cowboys are fine with all that, and even if they adjust to their new signal caller, there's no guarantee that Testaverde will prove the better alternative. He enjoyed his best days when he, Parcells and Johnson were together in the late '90s with the New York Jets. That was a long time ago. Testaverde will be 41 before the season is over. He hasn't played a full year of professional football since 2001. Last year, he played in only seven games, and he wouldn't have played in any if the Jets' starter, Chad Pennington, hadn't gone down because of an injury. Testaverde played well enough to have a 90.1 quarterback rating, but no one was lobbying for him to stay in the lineup, either, because the team went 2-5.
"We had experience last year, and we started very, very poorly," Jets offensive coordinator Paul Hackett recently told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. "You are saying that Vinny wasn't a good fit in our offense? We won 10 games the first year, and he did well in our offense. He just didn't play at his best as he got a little bit older. That's simply the case, period."
Whatever you thought about Carter, and despite all his faults--there were many--he was still young and spry and able to get his ass out of harm's way. Testaverde lacks both youth and quickness, and so his durability and ability are rightly questioned. Can he be the quarterback this team sorely needs? Can he make the throws necessary to win and, more than that, can he last an entire season? And if he breaks his hip, are the 'Boys on the hook for his hospital bills, or will Medicare pitch in?
"He still throws it, certainly, superior to most quarterbacks in the league," Parcells says, defending his quarterback and, by extension, the decision to cut Carter. "We have to do a good job protecting him. That's always been the case. There's nothing different there. I think he's in very good physical condition. And I think mentally he wants to try to play the game. What I have to do is create the right scenario for him to succeed--or anyone to succeed, if I can. Now, that's no different than it was here last year. These players, the writers that have covered me last year, know that I was content to run the ball just to keep the other team from having it, not so much 'cause I thought we were very good at it. And it did really work for us...We have to create a situation where we use him the way we can use him. Now Vinny is capable of the big play. He can throw the deep ball. So we have to make sure that we don't neglect that and try to be so methodical."