By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Meander through the neighborhood surrounding the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters and take a trip down memory lane. All the great quarterbacks are immortalized here: There's Staubach Street, Meredith Way, Morton Avenue and...would you believe, Carano Court?
See, there's still hope for Drew Henson.
Not of ever sniffing the Ring of Honor, or the playing field, for that matter. But of someday getting his very own cul-de-sac.
Glenn Carano, since there's no way in hell you remember, was Dallas' second-round draft pick in 1977. Buried behind Hall-of-Famer Roger Staubach, he threw only 57 passes in an extremely forgettable seven-year career carrying Captain America's clipboard.
Considering his development at the speed of refrigerated honey, Henson is on a pace to be canonized not as a boulevard but a bust.
Surmised Cowboys coach Bill Parcells of Henson near the end of pre-season, "He's not ready."
And with that ringing endorsement, Henson has now received the thumbs-down from coaching icons in two sports. Let's go back to this evaluation of Drew the baseball player, from none other than Yankees manager Joe Torre:
"At this time he's not in our immediate plans," Torre said in 2001 after watching his "can't-miss" third base prospect strike out 48 times in 139 at-bats and commit seven errors in 35 games for the AAA Columbus Clippers. "He's still a long ways away."
Drew Drive, here we come.
While Irving rookie Tyson Thompson was the surprise of Cowboys training camp, deafening whispers followed the two big disappointments. Right tackle Jacob Rogers, released when he opted for season-ending knee surgery the Cowboys didn't deem necessary, is--pssst, a P-word. And Henson, acquired and groomed to be the quarterback of the future, is--pssst, a B-word. (One rhymes with rust and the other with wussy; you figure it out.)
After an off-season spent retooling his delivery in search of improved accuracy, Henson went to Oxnard expecting to push Drew Bledsoe for the starting job. But as the pre-season ended last Thursday night at steamy Texas Stadium with a 27-20 win over the Jaguars, Henson was relegated to huddling alongside guys whose next jobs will involve blue collars instead of blue stars.
After completing only 12 of 27 pre-season passes and spending most of the last two exhibitions standing on the sideline in a baseball cap, Henson begins the season as Dallas' No. 3 quarterback.
In the locker room, Henson shoves a dip between his cheek and gum before putting on his jeans, NY cap and optimistic face.
"It went how it went," he shrugs in assessing his pre-season. "There were a couple throws I'd like to have back. But I can't worry about the what-ifs or it will drive me crazy. Obviously I didn't think I'd be No. 3. But it's a long season, and I'm going to keep working. Keep staying ready."
While the 64-year-old Parcells isn't exactly oozing with trust in Henson, owner Jerry Jones remains committed. Jones has invested a third-round draft pick (in a trade to the Texans), a seven-year contract and a $3.1 million guaranteed signing bonus, and he's not about to prematurely toss Henson atop the baseballers-gone-bust junk pile next to Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson.
"The fact is Drew hasn't progressed, and that's disappointing, but it's time for us to be patient," Jones said. "He's got quick feet, a strong arm and he's as smart as a whip. This is not a time to give up. It's a time to stick with him. Great quarterbacks don't always just land in your lap. Sometimes you have to develop them."
Henson just can't be this putrid, can he?
He played future Patriots' Super Bowl star Tom Brady to the bench at Michigan, for cryin' out loud. Awed by his pedigree and potential, scout Jim Garrett told the Cowboys in '01, "Henson is a clone of Troy Aikman...He will take a team to the Super Bowl." In their pursuit of finally finding their next Aikman, the Cowboys wined and dined Henson at Al Biernat's steakhouse and even brought Troy out to Valley Ranch for Drew's private workout.
And almost immediately Henson had us salivating with a 6-of-6 debut against the Ravens last season. But in his only start, last Thanksgiving against the Bears, he was slow to deliver an out route that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by R.W. McQuarters. You get the feeling that Parcells--who yanked Henson at halftime of that 7-7 game and demands at quarterback conservative caretaker rather than screaming skydiver--may never voluntarily put him in a meaningful game again.
That leaves the 25-year-old Henson with a murky future, and the Cowboys still searching for their next great quarterback.
Since Aikman left the field after a concussion collision with the Redskins' LaVar Arrington on December 10, 2000, Dallas has trotted out eight different experiments (not counting Tony Banks, who was cut before making a start): Randall Cunningham, Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Ryan Leaf, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde and Henson. In the last four seasons, Cowboys quarterbacks have thrown 64 touchdowns and 80 interceptions, the main culprit for their 26-38 record.
In other words, the most coveted position in professional sports has never seen darker days.
The long-term light might be another 3-13 nightmare. The one in '88 brought Aikman.
Bledsoe won't be 3-win bad. Although, at 33, he is in obvious decline, suffering descending completion percentages and 140 sacks the last three seasons in Buffalo. Too often he bails out and throws off his back foot. He's as mobile as your mailbox and was beat out by somebody named J.P. Losman. But the desperate Cowboys treasured Buffalo's trash, making Bledsoe a sort of Michael Finley in shoulder pads.
Which all means Dallas will head into Sunday's opener at San Diego with an almost has-been backed up by a probable never-was. And behind them both, a surefire should-be who just plain isn't. Yet.
As one NFL scout put it after the Jacksonville game, "Drew's development stage is about a college senior. He's a talented athlete still learning to be a football player. Most of us think he's worth the wait."
But at this rate, Henson's place in Cowboys history won't be measured in touchdowns and trophies alongside Aikman, but rather in ZIP codes, addresses and 3-2 1/2-2s, just down the street from Carano.