By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
That cast begins with Terry Glenn. The wide receiver looks phenomenal this camp--pure speed after he catches the ball and the Cowboys' best deep threat. But more than that, there's his history with Bledsoe.
In 1996, Glenn caught 90 passes for New England, a rookie record, with Bledsoe at the helm. Of Glenn's 31 all-time touchdown receptions, 21 have come from Bledsoe. Mac Bledsoe says, "I just know that [Drew's] plum excited to be working with Terry again."
But for how long? Glenn's stayed healthy about as long as Scott Weiland's stayed sober. He's missed at least one game in eight of his 10 seasons. Last year, he missed 10 games with torn ligaments in his right foot. Thirty-one now, his age becomes a factor.
"I think Terry's done everything he can possibly do to be ready to play this year," Parcells says. "He's been working out--he worked out like a fanatic...I got a greater sense of determination [from him] this off-season."
If Glenn stays healthy and Bledsoe grunts his way to glory--or at least a first down--the Cowboys offense could be all right. A defender smothering Keyshawn Johnson doesn't mean he isn't open. Jason Witten is an All-Pro tight end. And Julius Jones could lead the league in rushing. But Jones, Bledsoe, all of them, will depend on the offensive line. And it's looked like crap.
In Seattle Monday, there was slightly less with which to be concerned. But that's because the line looked godawful against Arizona two weeks ago. The Cardinals sacked the Cowboys four times. This follows a 2004 campaign that ended with Testaverde and back-up Drew Henson sacked at least three times in the last five games--and five times against Washington the day after Christmas. Tackle Flozell Adams led the team with 12 penalties last year. Against Arizona this preseason, a promising move down the field in the third quarter ended with a third and 50--the offensive line had four penalties on the drive. The unit finished the game with seven.
"That hadn't been happening in practice," Jerry Jones says. "That was disappointing."
Yes it was. And it'll get more disappointing if the Cowboys can't find a right tackle worth a damn. Worse still if Bledsoe can't handle a mauling similar to what Testaverde took at the end of last season. That's when the Cowboys could really be screwed.
The back-up quarterbacks--eh, not so great. Tony Romo ran with the second team most of training camp. But that's only because Drew Henson is his competition. Henson looked terrible. He threw at the feet of running backs waiting for screen passes. Overthrew wide receivers in the red zone by 10 yards. Parcells one Wednesday morning hollered at Henson for throwing an interception even before Lance Frazier, the cornerback, had intercepted the ball.
Tony Romo's not without his faults, either. "Tony had two turnovers in nine plays this morning," Parcells said that same Wednesday morning. "If we had 63 plays in the game and he had two [turnovers] every nine, that would be 14 by himself. I'm not trying to be a wise guy; I'm just saying he's gotta be careful."
He has been. He outplayed Henson in Phoenix and Seattle by basically not turning the ball over and looking competent under center. But if Parcells wants to, he could still sign a veteran for the back-up job. One veteran the media at Oxnard heard as an option was--you ready for this?--Vinny Testaverde.
"I'd like to leave that one alone for a while," Parcells says of the back-up situation. "Much to your consternation."
Greg Ellis stops a few yards shy of the Cowboys' locker room, where it's quieter, where other media and fans can't bother him. He's a large man, 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, a basketball player gone bigger, and for the past four seasons the defensive end has led the Cowboys in sacks. But he worried this off-season whether he'd be able to do it again.
In the new 3-4 defense, Ellis moves over one spot. He used to line up opposite the offensive tackle's outside shoulder, using speed to get past the tackle and pressure the quarterback. Now, he's directly across the line of scrimmage from the offensive tackles, all of whom outweigh him by at least 40 pounds. Now, having to face them straight up, he fears the tackles' size and power will compromise his speed. He fears he might fall out of favor with Jerry Jones. He fears he won't get the $500,000 bonus due him at the end of the year.
At least, that's what he told The Dallas Morning News a month ago. Tonight, downplaying his past statements, he says his fears were overblown and his talent underestimated. "The coaches tell me I'm getting better at it, so I think I am," Ellis says.
The concerns, however legitimate, are a microcosm of this Cowboys defense. The switch to the 3-4 may be good for the team, but it may also minimize certain players' best assets--so Parcells wants it both ways. He said last Monday he'll also use the 4-3 this year (four defensive linemen, three linebackers). It's the defensive package with which most of his players are familiar. It will also put onto the field the quality players alienated by the 3-4.