Then and Now — Offense By Rafael Vela The offense takes its turn as the problem unit this year. A look at ‘05, however, shows its got more talent this year, even if the pieces are melding more slowly this time around. Then:…the wide receiver position took a lot of knocks because no draftees were added. But the passing ame has some real weapons, even if they’re not shiny and new. Jason Witten is shiny and new and he’s going to keep getting better. His blocking has improved and he’s already developed a rapport with Drew Bledsoe, who can spot him anytime and anywhere. Bledsoe also has an understanding with his old Pats teammate Terry Glenn, who was easily the most effective wideout in camp. Add in Patrick Crayton, who looks better every day and the steady-eddie Keyshawn Johnson and I see a unit that can move the ball. Seven Practices Later and What Do I Know? August 20, 2005 Now: He’s crazy. He’s mental. He feels hamstrings the way Haley Joel Osment saw dead people. Nevertheless, Terrell Owens represents an upgrade over Keyshawn, even with a sore hammy. Johnson had one catch over 20 yards last season. T.O.’s a threat to take a slant the distance on every play. Terry Glenn gives you speed. He burned everybody in the first half of ‘05 but slowed down once teams realized he was Dallas’ prime passing weapon, with Jason Witten staying in to help Rob Petitti so much. Witten should be much better this year. The Cowboys drafted Anthony Fasano to handle the dirty work at the line of scrimmage and Lousaka Polite shows better blocking skills this year. People seem a bit surprised by the Charlie Adams trade, he and Sam Hurd represent a step up from Quincy Morgan and Terence Copper, the 4th and 5th receivers last year. Then:The offensive line was able to create running space all week, even when backups Tyson Walter and Rob Petitti were manning the right side of the line. The one hold up is, of course, right tackle. We’ll learn a lot Monday night about the Rob Petitti experiment. Hope that Seahawks DC Ray Rhodes throws the kitchen sink at him, so that the Cowboys coaches can get a true assessment of his development. There is no question the man has skills. The bigger issue is whether the team can depend on them to develop in a timely fashion this year. If Dallas can find somebody — anybody — to play RT, the offense has the talent to put points on the board. Now: My writeup last year gave the line far more credit than it deserved. It was moving the ball against the defense, though in retrospect, that seems more a case of the defense being behind than the offense being good. At this point last year Marco Rivera was riding the bike. He was still a week away from getting over his tweaked hamstring and joining the rotation. Ben Noll was starting. Tyson Walter was the backup RT to Rob Petitti, who had been hurriedly shifted from LT when Jacob Rogers went down. Dallas was considering the vagabond veteran Ross Verba. We all know how that story turned out. This year the Cowboys still have a question mark at RT, though they appear to have better options. Marc Colombo is on trajectory to complete an amazing comeback from a devastating leg injury. He still struggles from time to time, but a source who’s watching him closely says he needs more reps; he’s started just two games since he dislocated a knee in 2002. Petitti looks much slimmer and fitter though Parcells claimed Wednesday that he lacked consistent technique. The Cowboys were rumored to be tracking Patriots backup RT Brandon Gorin early in the week. Everything depends on health. The Cowboys have Flozell Adams back. Rivera’s healthy again and Parcells proclaimed him the one sure thing on the line. Kyle Kosier seems steady if unspectacular. Andre Gurode has the first team center job but it’s too early to praise him; inconsistency has always been his flaw. Al Johnson looks bigger without any adverse effect on his pulling skills. These guys still keep you on edge, but their risk factor is lower this time around. Then:Everybody is excited about Julius Jones after his breathtaking ‘04 stretch run. He showed big play ability and a second sight that allowed him to avoid the first tackler. The draw to Jones was unstoppable, especially in the Seattle win. Now: Jones regressed last year, held back by more nagging injuries. His durability remains a question mark but Dallas has a second option in Marion Barber, who showed good hands and power as a rookie. He’s getting most of the third down and goalline reps in camp and will get a heavy percentage of reps. QB: Drew Bledsoe had many skeptics to win over last year. After Vinnie Testaverde’s ‘04 nobody was in the mood for another past-his-prime, Parcells retread. He silenced them for half a season, posting a 98.0 QB ratings. The doubts and doubters crept back the second half as Bledsoe’s game eroded. Optimists said his performance mirrored his O-line’s; pessimists said he was doing his annual late fade. This year, Tony Romo has pushed Bledsoe into the shadows. The 4th year rookie from Northern Illinois showed mobility and moxie against Seattle, though he faced only half of the starting Seahawks D. His timing, energy and much stronger arm suggest the Cowboys may have quietly developed their QB heir. Parcells promised Romo plenty of reps this preseason, so we’ll get a much clearer assessment in the coming weeks. Overall, the review is mixed. The unit’s performance trails last year’s model. On the other hand, last year’s offense was a mirage. It never built a consistent running game and collapsed when Flozell Adams went down. This year’s team has more talent. It could be worth the wait.