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News: FWST: Challenges Await Improved Cowboys

Discussion in 'News Zone' started by Hostile, Jul 31, 2004.

  1. Hostile

    Hostile Peace Zone Supporter

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    Posted on Sat, Jul. 31, 2004



    I M A G E S

    STAR-TELEGRAM/TOM PENNINGTON
    Jerry Jones, above, and Bill Parcells are trying to keep their enthusiasm to realistic levels.





    Challenges await improved Cowboys

    2003 success raises bar for '04

    By Clarence E. Hill Jr.

    Star-Telegram Staff Writer


    OXNARD, Calif. - A year ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones opened training camp with temperance and patience.

    Despite the hiring of Hall of Fame-in-waiting coach Bill Parcells, Jones said turning around his downtrodden franchise would not be a quick fix and that their goal was to build for the future.

    That was before the Cowboys shocked the league and themselves, ending the 5-11 funks of the previous three seasons by finishing 10-6 and earning a wild-card playoff berth.

    This year's roster is highlighted by the influx of former Pro Bowlers such as receiver Keyshawn Johnson, quarterback Vinny Testaverde, running back Eddie George and defensive end Marcellus Wiley. And with the well-documented history of second-year improvement by Parcells-coached teams, there should be no tempering of Jones' enthusiasm this season.

    Yet, on the eve of the start of training camp, there was Jones, potentially stealing the joy out of a 71-degree, sunny day.

    Jones said he believes the Cowboys are a better team, but that they will be hard-pressed to match last season's success because of the off-season improvement made by their NFC East foes, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. All three teams made significant free-agent additions, while the Redskins and Giants hired new coaches.

    "With what we are facing in the division, it really is a reach, even with our enthusiasm, to match last year," Jones said. "It's a reach even being enthusiastic because of how tough it is going to be to match 10 ballgames."

    Jones' attitude is not one of "give up or give in" but rather a continuation of the philosophy he and Parcells set forth last season of getting better for the present while building for the future. The Cowboys added players in the off-season but didn't go after big-ticket items. And consider that three months after passing on the two running backs generally rated the best in the 2004 draft and trading their first-round pick to Buffalo for a first-round pick in 2005, the Cowboys signed former Tennessee Titan George to bolster their running game.

    "If you look at what we've done since the start of camp last year, I'd hope you'd agree with me that we have had a change in philosophy," Jones said. "Our salary-cap situation is the best we've had since the current collective bargaining agreement was put in place 10 years ago, and that's a good feeling. It's a good feeling to see the mix of veteran and young players."

    "I think we are a better football team. I hope we win enough games to make the playoffs again."

    Although Parcells likes the makeup of the 2004 Cowboys, he refuses to get into predictions.

    "I only judge my team by how does it play to its potential as how I perceive it to be," he said. "I should know what I have. If it plays to the level I think it can play to, then I'm happy, regardless of the record."

    In three previous coaching stops, Parcells' second-year teams have qualified for the playoffs in each of those campaigns and have won at least three more games than the previous season.

    The reasons are simple: an increased talent base, a better understanding of what's expected from the players and more focus on the off-season program.

    "Each year's a new year, and you never really know the things you put together on paper are going to result in a better operation," Parcells said. "We're somewhere down the road as far as where we're trying to go. We're further down the road, but that doesn't mean you're going to win. Things happen every year, and that's why it's such a challenging and humbling game. There are a new set of problems."

    After a number of off-season moves to improve their depth and create more competition at almost every position, the biggest problem the Cowboys face heading into training camp is overcoming the loss of strong safety Darren Woodson.

    The 12-year veteran and team captain underwent back surgery this week to remove a ruptured disk. He is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks and miss the season opener at Minnesota. Given Woodson's work ethic, Parcells wants to be optimistic about a faster recovery. But given Woodson's age, 35, Parcells is prepared for the worst.

    Parcells said the situation creates a great opportunity for backup safety Tony Dixon to finally make an impact. Parcells cited Dixon, a fourth-year veteran, as a perfect example of why his teams get better in their second year.

    Parcells said he likes Johnson's experience, the impact Wiley should make as a pass rusher and the comfort Testaverde brings as a mentor and/or replacement for incumbent starting quarterback Quincy Carter, but improvement from within will have the biggest impact on the Cowboys this season.

    He cited Dixon, guard Andre Gurode, defensive tackle Daleroy Stewart, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, linebacker Bradie James, tight end Jason Witten and tackle Torrin Tucker as players who could potentially make huge jumps in 2004.

    What's certain is that the start of training camp has not ended the efforts by Jones and Parcells to improve the Cowboys for 2004. A year ago, they added 12 players from the start of training camp to the end of the season. Parcells said the philosophy of getting better for the present while building for the future calls for the same vigilance.

    Cowboys training camp

    Through Aug. 20, Oxnard, Calif. Preseason opener: Aug. 14 at Houston Season opener: Sept. 12 at Minnesota

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