Cowboys -- new and improved
Popular NFL team, with a new coach and players, a far different one from when it last trained in Oxnard
By Bob Buttitta, bbuttitta@VenturaCountyStar.com
July 18, 2004
When the Dallas Cowboys showed up in Oxnard in 2001 for two weeks of training camp, the only links with the franchise's glory years were Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and the stars on their helmets.
Those Cowboys were coming off a 2000 season where they posted a 5-11 record and their head coach was Dave Campo, a well-respected, but not highly successful top man.
Three years later, the luster has been restored to one of the NFL's glamor franchises.
Last season, Dallas surprised nearly all NFL observers by posting an 10-7 record and earning its first playoff berth since 1999.
Much of the credit for returning Big D to its place among the NFL's top franchises goes to head coach Bill Parcells.
Regarded as one of the best coaches to ever walk a sideline, Parcells took a team which was 5-11 in 2002. Without making major changes in personnel, Parcells transformed the Cowboys into a playoff team.
Parcells used a formula which has worked for him at every stop he's made in the NFL -- strong defense, excellent special teams and a conservative approach on offense in order to limit turnovers.
Parcells did manage to get a 3,000-yard season out of quarterback Quincy Carter, making him the fifth Cowboys' quarterback to surpass that number.
But it was the defense that sparked the turnaround. For the fourth time in team history, Dallas' defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
The Cowboys yielded a league-low 253.5 yards per game and were also No. 1 against the pass (allowing only 164.4 a game). The Cowboys also yielded the second fewest points in the league (16.3 per game).
Defensive end La'Roi Glover, a Pro Bowl selection last year, said last year's turnaround must be considered a success, but he and his teammates expect to do more in the future.
"I think, since coming to Dallas, it's not enough to just to get to the playoffs. You've gotta win a Super Bowl," Glover said in an interview with Cowboys.com "It's as simple as that. That's always been my goal, my teammates' goal, the coaches of the organization's goal, and I don't think that'll change.
"The second year around, the excuses are out the door. You should know what to expect. There should be no hesitation or anything like that. Just be ready for it. That's the biggest thing I can tell the young guys. It's not gonna be a walk in the park. It's not gonna be fun all the time. It's gonna be real professional and real businesslike."
Ventura County fans who showed up to watch the Cowboys train in 2001 will see a much different team this year, both in terms of personnel and in attitude.
It starts with Parcells, a stickler for details and a coach who demands every player give maximum effort during every minute of practice.
As the Cowboys start their second training camp under Parcells, Glover said everyone knows what "The Tuna" demands.
"We know what he expects of us -- physically, mentally and how you study, how you prepare," Glover said.
"Everyone's gotta lift weights -- do conditioning, the whole roster. There are no surprises. There's not gonna be any excuses."
The new 'Boys
Last year's improvement did not prevent owner/general manager Jerry Jones from going out and making changes to his team's roster.
Dallas was extremely active in both free agency and with trades. As a result, there are plenty of additions to the roster.
Among the key free-agent signings were former New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde and ex-San Diego Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley.
Talented wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson came via a trade for Joey Galloway.
Testaverde played for Parcells when he coached the Jets. His knowledge of Parcell's system and his veteran leadership are two of the main reasons Parcells signed the veteran quarterback.
Parcells told former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt that Testaverde is the best-conditioned athlete he's ever seen. And Johnson told Brandt that Testaverde was the only quarterback he would ever take any guff from.
"He was amazing out there on the field. ... He looked like he was in his prime," Brandt said of Testaverde after watching him at mini-camp.
The Cowboys also traded for former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, who has spent the last few years playing baseball in the New York Yankees minor league system.
Henson figures to be the Cowboys' quarterback of the future. As for this year, he will probably be a backup.
Johnson, whose off-the-field actions often overshadow his on-the-field performance, comes to Dallas from Tampa Bay, where he and Bucs coach Jon Gruden feuded frequently.
The former USC Trojan had his most productive years playing for Parcells in New York, so Dallas is hoping he can rekindle his passion for the game this season.
As for the defense, Glover is excited to have Wiley to provide another strong pass rusher. Wiley combined for 231/2 sacks in 2000 and 2001, but had just nine the previous two campaigns.
"Adding Marcellus (Wiley) brings an experienced guy," Glover said. "Lots of experience. He can get to the quarterback, he can do all the things the coaches expect him to do.
"There's nothing but upgrade. We've got to lift our level of play, the rest of us do, to try to improve on what we did last year."
Besides the free agents, Dallas drafted several players whom it expects to come in and have an impact.
The team's top pick was Notre Dame running back Julius Jones. With last year's starter Troy Hambrick having been released, Jones has a chance to earn the starting spot out of the gate.
"We think Julius Jones is a really good player," said Jerry Jones. "I think he can really help us at running back. He can get yards when there's not the blocking."
To help open holes for Jones, the Cowboys used their second pick to select offensive tackle Jacob Rogers, the former Oxnard High and USC standout.
While Rogers played left tackle for three years at USC, he is moving to the right side, with a chance to start right away.
By the time that Dallas leaves Oxnard on Aug. 20, it needs to have answers to several big questions.
- Who is the starting quarterback, Carter or Testaverde?
- Can Jones step in and be the impact running back that Parcells needs for his offensive to be totally effective?
- Will Johnson revert back to his Pro Bowl form now that he's playing for Parcells again?
- Can the defense equal or even surpass its spectacular performance of last season?
What to expect
The Cowboys doubled their victory total in 2003, from five to 10. They did so partially because they were able to surprise some teams, something that isn't likely to happen this season.
The Cowboys' division, the NFC East, also figures to be stronger. Philadelphia is considered by many to be the Super Bowl favorite from the NFC.
Joe Gibbs is coming out of retirement to coach Washington, and with additions such as Clinton Portis and Mark Brunell, the Redskins figure to be much improved.
The New York Giants have former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin running the show and also have two new quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Kurt Warner. They may not have the talent to contend, but they will be competitive.
Dallas has the talent to make a serious postseason run, and if all the cards fall right, perhaps even a Super Bowl appearance.
Parcells is continuing to build this team his way. It's still going to take more time, but the Cowboys are certainly in better shape now than they have been since Jimmy Johnson left. They will have a lot more pressure on them this year.