One Classy Lady
Mickey: Allen pullling his weight
By MICKEY SPAGNOLA
Aug. 2, 2004, 5:35 p.m. (PDT)
OXNARD, Calif. - There seems to be a truce.
The tug-of-war has ceased.
Maybe not a truce, but a surrender. Larry Allen has been doing, and is doing, what Bill Parcells wants. Doubt it very much that Parcells gave an inch.
And this might not even have been a surrender on Allen's part. He's been in this league 10 years, and he knew darn well whatever kind of stunt he was trying to pull last year didn't work. Sure, he might have pulled the wool over the fans' eyes in the Pro Bowl voting, but gosh, if he was being honest with himself, he had to know last year was quite embarrassing.
Was he hurt? Was it his knee? His ankle? His whatever?
Me, I don't think so. There was no medical proof of any physical malfunction, and if there had been, and Parcells was ignoring whatever with tyrannical disregard, then the league would have fined the Cowboys, or Allen and his agent would have fired off a grievance to the NFL Players Association.
None of that took place to anyone's knowledge.
Allen's problems stretched further than not seeing eye-to-eye with Parcells; further than being at odds with Parcells' weight-lifting philosophy; and further than him suddenly regressing as a player.
Sure Allen has played 10 years, but he's only 32, and for an offensive lineman - at least the good ones who have landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame - this should be the prime of his career.
No, and Allen won't talk about whatever was bugging him last year, but this had to do with something more than football. Personal. Finances. Something, because even Parcells alluded to a mysterious problem Allen was dealing with during one of his off-season press conference, but wouldn't elaborate.
What we can elaborate on about Allen is the here and now, and even after just three days of training camp, which might be a tad premature, although last year's bike-riding campaign began some time that first week of training camp after Allen begged out of practice one afternoon.
First, he's here. That's always a good thing. He's weighing what he's supposed to weigh, and for a guy listed at 335, that's a good thing, because any heavier, he might be tipping over. No, seriously, Allen passes the "eye-ball test," as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likes to say. He looks good.
Next, he is running well, the source of much concern last year at this time. Allen could barely run, and for no amount of time or distance. And hey, we're not talking running a 10K here, or sprinting out in Olympic time. We're just talking running across the field and back a couple of times, and doing so without getting lapped by the other players.
Well, right after stretching during the first four practices here at the River Ridge complex in this to-die-for climate, Allen has gone back and forth without finishing last. In fact, he probably finished in the lead of the final third. Then on Monday, Parcells asked them to go across back and forth twice. No problems. Allen held his own among the heavies.
And he runs after each practice, the length of the field, accompanied by Flozell Adams, and he's actually running, his feet coming off the ground instead of practicing what used to be the Nate Newton training camp grass-killing shuffle. These are all good signs.
So is this:
Two consecutive days Parcells has praised Allen, or at least given credence to the cease fire/surrender, however you want to evaluate this.
Sunday: "He's in a lot better condition . . . lot better condition. He seems to be good, working hard. A lot different."
Monday: "Much better. You guys are watching. He's just so much better - it's night and day. A lot better condition."
Allen no longer is being tipped over as if cattle in the night. He seems able to pull again. And he's not getting embarrassed in those one-on-one pass-rush drills as he was last year at this time when warning flags were perceptively flown.
Now again, we're talking practice. Be nice to see these encouraging signs extended into this coming Saturday's scrimmage and then to next week's first preseason game against the Houston Texans. It's one thing to practice well, but remember, in these practices, for any team period, the first team might go a half-dozen straight snaps before rotating. Heck, in a game, that's just the first series.
Does Allen still have staying power?
And in a game, those aren't teammates you're hitting. That becomes a different story.
But at least for now, all seems encouraging, and much more so than last year at the same time when Allen appeared to be testing the team's new head coach, not to mention his authority. And we are quite familiar with his in-again, out-again performances during the regular season, being dragged off the field as if he was taking his last step only to return for the second half.
"I was frustrated, no doubt about that," said Parcells of last year when the only established guy on his offensive line was balking. "But things have taken a turn for the better. I just got to get it the way it needs to be gotten.
"He's doing all right now, thank goodness."
Can we get an amen to that. Because if this team if to improve over last year's 10-6 record then the offense must improve. And if the offense is to improve over last year's average showing at best, then the offensive line must improve.
And for the offensive line to improve, Larry Allen needs to be Larry Allen again, and not that imposter stuffed into 73 last year.
After the offense went four-for-four on touchdowns at the goal line to end Monday morning's practice, Parcells called the team up, but the defense petitioned for one more play. So he sent everyone back out for another play, and darn if quarterback Tony Romo didn't run a deft naked boot, fumbling into the end zone but recovering for another touchdown. Guarantee you if this practice had been in Wichita Falls, that defense wouldn't have been asking for another play.
Here is the gaggle of players working on kick-off returns following Monday's morning practice: Julius Jones, ReShard Lee, Terence Newman, Aveion Cason, Jemeel Powell, Patrick Crayton, Nathan Jones, Terrance Copper, Bruce Thornton and Zuriel Smith. Watch out for Thornton. He used to be a running back in high school.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is downplaying any talk of returning with last year's No. 1 defense. "The first day I told them, "The first time we put the pads on, there is no No. 1 defense," Zimmer said. And as predicted, the Cowboys have been dabbling in a little 3-4 scheme, Parcells thinking it might be a possibility if second-year linebacker Scott Shanle continues as he's started.
Parcells talked extensively about the chance Tony Dixon will get to prove himself at strong safety in Darren Woodson's absence from training camp. But when asked about the alternative to Dixon should he not prove worthy, Parcells, looking uncomfortably at his watch as if he'd rather not answer the question, said, "That's the second hard (question) right there. We'll see. I don't know."