News: on Offense

Discussion in 'News Zone' started by Charles, Jul 21, 2004.

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    By MICKEY SPAGNOLA Columnist

    July 20, 2004, 5:45 p.m. (CDT)

    IRVING, Texas -
    Analyzing your opponents is one thing. Analyzing yourself sometimes is more difficult.

    Just hard to be brutally objective when evaluating somebody you are pulling for; someone you have a vested interest in seeing play well. Maybe even someone you were responsible for drafting or signing as a free agent. After all, nobody likes to be wrong.

    That was one of Jimmy Johnson's best coaching attributes. He did not fool himself or his coaching staff with personnel rhetoric. He knew best what his players were capable of doing and what they weren't capable of doing. And then he coached accordingly.

    After one year, seems Bill Parcells is as objective about his team.

    And you look hard in that mirror, too.

    But hey, don't just listen to the Cowboys, nor just to me when it comes to the talent on this 2004 Dallas Cowboys team. Check around to see what those outside Dallas or this Cowboys circle think of the personnel on this team. And for that, I'm just your guy to help you out.

    Yep, I give you Pro Football Weekly Preview 2004, where not only is there a scouting report on each team, but the publication also produced a position-by-position rating for the personnel in the league. There's a top 50 list. The top quarterbacks, running backs, fullbacks, etc., were all ranked.

    Now, I'm not saying these rankings are the final word, but PFW did poll NFL general managers, personnel directors and scouts to help with these ratings, so take them for what they're worth.

    But here is what should hit you like a bolt of lightning just a week before the Cowboys depart for training camp:

    The Cowboys did not have a single player ranked among the top 50 in the NFL.
    In the eight offensive categories - quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, center, offensive guard and offensive tackle - the Cowboys had only one player ranked among any of the top 10.
    At the offensive skill positions, only one Cowboys player was ranked higher than 23.
    Does this sound like a team ready to average more than 18 points a game?

    Where are the difference makers?

    According to these rankings, the Cowboys only have two offensive players ranked among the top players at their position. Richie Anderson is the fourth-ranked fullback, and that he's behind only Fred Beasley, Mack Strong and Tony Richardson is pretty fast company for the 12th-year veteran. And Flozell Adams is the sixth-ranked offensive tackle, trailing but Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Willie Roaf and Tarik Glenn - nothing to be ashamed of.

    But that's it.

    And here is the scary part, er, at least somewhat alarming, again, if you want to subscribe to PFW's rating system: The Cowboys did not have a running back, tight end or center listed.

    And at quarterback, are you ready for this: Quincy Carter is ranked 28th out of 28 quarterbacks listed. Worse, now that Kerry Collins is in Oakland, the Raiders have two quarterbacks (Collins and Rich Gannon) listed among the top 28, and so do the Redskins (Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey). And had the Browns not released Tim Couch, they would have, too (Couch and Jeff Garcia).

    Let that sink in . . . .

    And some of you out there can't understand for the life of you why the Cowboys signed Vinny Testaverde in the off-season and traded for Drew Henson. In a rating scale that goes from 5.0 (franchise player) down to 1.5 (solid starter you can win with), Carter checks in at 2.6, and this is his evaluation:

    Carter started strong but faded as teams took away the outside of the field and forced him to throw between the hashes and into tight spaces. Not a pure or touch passer. Thinks too much and has a baseball delivery but rocket arm. Still could develop into a solid starter if he plays within himself.

    About the only quarterbacks Carter is ranked ahead of are those listed as "top veteran prospects" (TVP), including Kyle Boller, A.J. Feeley, Rex Grossman, Josh McCowan, Carson Palmer and Tim Rattay. Plus, after his rating, Carter has a "c," meaning "player is at a crossroads."

    No need for me to further belabor the point.

    Let's move on. That the Cowboys don't have a runner listed among the tailbacks is not surprising. Come on, who would be? Julius Jones has never played. Same for ReShard Lee. Aveion Cason is coming off reconstructive knee surgery. And Anderson, being counted on by Parcells for tailback duty just in case, is a fullback, remember?

    Oh, and if you just need to know, Eddie George, who said he's be interested in playing for Philadelphia, Dallas and Tampa Bay if released by Tennessee, is ranked 21st.

    Now then, only 16 tight ends are listed, but at least Jason Witten is among the TVP's.

    Wide receiver would have to be considered another disturbing position, especially when your highest rated player, Keyshawn Johnson is no better than 23 out of the 30 listed, and also pinned with a "c." Somewhat encouraging would be Antonio Bryant being listed among the TVP's with such fancy young company as Ashley Lelie, Charles Rogers, Donte Stallworth and Javon Walker, and one reason why you will see him in training camp for sure.

    But again the teeter-totter bottoms out at center, to no one's surprise, since projected starter Al Johnson did not play last year and 16-game starter Matt Lehr has been moved to guard. No Cowboys among the 16 ranked centers. At least, though, Johnson is a TVP.

    Moving on to guard, and again, don't be fooling yourself. Larry Allen, once considered the top player at his position and one of the top five players in the league just three seasons ago, is ranked 15th out of 23 guards. But at least there is hope there, and also if you figure Andre Gurode got a TVP mention.

    And at tackle, Adams received the highest grade of any Dallas offensive player - 3.8 - just a tenth less than the lowest rated players in the league's top 50. Not bad for a guy who really just emerged from the shadows of inconsistency last season.

    Needless to say, the Cowboys didn't have anyone listed among the top 9 kickers nor top eight punters.

    So it would appear Parcells and his offensive staff - Sean Payton, Maurice Carthon, Todd Haley, George Warhop, Tony Sparano and David Lee - have their work cut out for them once again.

    And so does the defense, ranked first in total defense last year and second in scoring defense, obviously the glue to last year's 10-6 record and playoff appearance. And that goodness is reflected in the defensive rankings, with starting ends Greg Ellis (17) and Marcellus Wiley (23) both among the top 25 ends; La'Roi Glover the second defensive tackle to only Kris Jenkins; Dat Nguyen the seventh-ranked middle linebacker; Dexter Coakley the 12th-ranked outside linebacker; Terence Newman a TVP corner; and the starting safeties among the top 20, Roy Williams checking in at five and Darren Woodson at 18.

    All again singling out the Dallas offense. Albatross or accelerator?

    The answer will be the key to this 2004 season.

    While Tennessee running back Eddie George keeps telling people he's interested in Dallas and that the Cowboys are interested in him, can't imagine the Cowboys' interest would run much more than the veteran minimum of $660,000 for a running back with a bad foot averaging 3.3 yards a carry last year. Plus, they did draft Julius Jones, didn't they?
    Expect the Cowboys to start signing their eight draft choices, probably the majority the beginning of next week. Without a first-round draft choice to sign, there should not be much difficulty getting this all completed prior to the July 31 start to practice.
    And when they finish signing those eight draft choices, the Cowboys will have to shave at least three players off their roster before camp even begins. They are at 89 right now, and because of their NFL Europe exemptions, would be allowed to bring 86 to camp if they keep the NFLE players on the roster. But it's unlikely the Cowboys will bring five quarterbacks to camp, which means either Chad Hutchinson or Tony Romo will be released. If it's Hutchinson, then the Cowboys would lose an exemption, and be down to an 85-man limit.

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