Jerry Jones leaned back in a folding chair at the Cowboys'
Oxnard, Calif., practice site in mid-August, chewing on a
request that seemed simple enough: Characterize your decision to
cut projected starting quarterback Tony Banks three weeks before
Dallas's regular-season opener. After several aborted attempts
at an answer--and nearly tipping his chair over once while
deliberating--the Cowboys' owner and general manager spoke
slowly. "It was...a move we thought...well, would be
considered...bold and aggressive," he said. "We knew we'd create
debate, but I firmly believe that to succeed, you must take
unconventional actions, ones that seem to go against sound
decision-making." He then apologized for all of the hemming and
hawing, saying he had wanted to choose his words carefully.
Somewhere, thousands of Dallas faithful wail in unison: If only
he'd taken such care in choosing a new quarterback to begin
with. In an off-season during which the Cowboys' primary mission
was to find a replacement for three-time Super Bowl-winning
signal-caller Troy Aikman, who retired rather than risk another
concussion, Jones stretched the limits of sound decision-making.
First he made jaws drop around the NFL by drafting lightly
regarded Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter, in the second round
no less. Then he failed to land a free-agent quarterback more
capable than Banks, who last year went four consecutive games
without leading the Ravens to a touchdown before losing his
starting spot. To top it off, Jones cut Banks on Aug. 14,
ensuring that Dallas will go into the season with a rookie
starting under center and an untested second-year man, Anthony
Wright, as his backup.
Even grimmer news for Cowboys fans: The offense will be expected
to carry the team this fall. Last year the Dallas defense ranked
last in the NFL against the run and had only 25 sacks. Three of
that unit's best players--tackles Chad Hennings and Leon Lett and
end Alonzo Spellman--are gone. The Cowboys' attempts to stop
opponents this fall will be recognizable only to fans of NFL
teams based in Ohio.
That puts a considerable burden on the hardworking, soft-spoken
Carter, who's as game as he is overmatched. Carter looked
competent in camp, and he will be asked to make safe, short
passes in offensive coordinator Jack Reilly's ball-control
offense. But he didn't inspire much confidence in his first
exhibition game as the starter, completing three of 12 passes for
five yards and having an interception returned 19 yards for a
touchdown. "Quincy needs this experience," says Jones. "I think
the doubts of our veterans will be offset by the promise of the
future." Carter's cause won't be helped by the fact that his two
starting wideouts, Joey Galloway and Raghib Ismail, are returning
from major knee injuries suffered last season.
Nevertheless, Carter is upbeat. "I feel good about this
situation," he says, "especially with Emmitt [Smith] lined up
behind me." In truth Carter's promotion most likely scuttles any
chance Smith had of gaining 1,560 yards this season and breaking
Walter Payton's career rushing record of 16,726 yards. Opponents
will stuff eight defenders into the box and force Carter to beat
them as a passer. Ever the good soldier, Smith seems at ease with
that prospect. "In a perfect world I'd break the record, and Troy
and Jay [Novacek] and Michael [Irvin] and Daryl Johnston would
still be here," he says. "But this isn't a perfect world. Quincy
will benefit from this, and I'll do all I can to help him."
Whatever his shortcomings, Banks could have helped nurture
Carter along too. But the five-year veteran--who Jones and coach
Dave Campo had stated was their starter from the day of his
signing--inspired nothing but frustration among management and
teammates with his questionable off-season work habits, such as
missing voluntary throwing sessions with Galloway and Ismail
because he was too busy overseeing his relocation to Dallas.
Cowboys players didn't openly criticize Banks in the wake of his
departure, nor did they say they longed for his return. "You
earn the position, so I look at it as though we never had a new
starting quarterback," says Smith. "With Troy, our starter was a
365-days-a-year guy who was always prepared because of his work
with Michael and Jay. That's what we need at that position."
Though Banks wasn't the man for the job and has since found a
home with the Redskins, he made sure to burn any bridges in
Dallas by lambasting his release, saying he'd only wanted "a fair
shake" and that he "just wasn't one of Jerry's guys."
Trust us, Tony: By season's end, not being one of Jerry's guys
will seem like an awfully good thing. --J.E.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL C. HEBERT With no seasoned quarterback to show him the ropes, Carter will learn on the run this year.
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS COVATTA COAKLEY
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cowboys
"Oh, my goodness. Awful. Awful, awful, awful. I don't know;
maybe they know something we don't about a lot of their players.
This seems like another year in which Jerry Jones's ego got in
the way. He's always thought he was so good at putting a team
together, that he knew so much more than anyone else, and this
is what he gets: Quincy Carter as his starting quarterback. How
big a reach was Carter? Most other teams didn't have him on
their first-day draft board. Ridiculous.... This is the Cowboys'
second straight terrible draft, and that catches up with you....
Their defense is pathetic, especially the secondary. Their
corners are terrible, though calling Izell Reese a corner isn't
fair since they moved him from safety. When a team has to do
that, you know it's in trouble. Still, how do you have a defense
that bad and do nothing to improve it?... I like Dexter Coakley,
who's a Zach Thomas clone: a tough guy who's a bit undersized
but always around the ball.... Emmitt Smith will be vulnerable,
because the passing attack will stink, and he'll be asked to
carry a big load behind a questionable line. Larry Allen's still
at the top of his game, but Mark Stepnoski is slowing down and
Erik Williams is gone--a big loss.... Maybe Jerry is playing
this like a throwaway year, a year to get even further under the
cap and pick up a high draft pick. If that's it, don't be
surprised if they also go out and get a new coach to start it
all over. This could easily be the worst team in football."
Sept. 9 TAMPA BAY
16 at Detroit
23 SAN DIEGO
30 at Philadelphia
Oct. 7 Open date
15 WASHINGTON (Mon.)
21 at Oakland
Nov. 4 at N.Y. Giants
11 at Atlanta
22 DENVER (Thurs.)
Dec. 2 at Washington
9 N.Y. GIANTS
16 at Seattle
23 at Arizona
30 SAN FRANCISCO
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 16 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .496
Games against playoff teams: 7
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics
COACH: Dave Campo; second season with Dallas (5-11 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 5-11 (fourth in NFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 12/28/25; defense 31/3/19
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Quincy Carter 165 183 att. 91 comp. 49.7% 1,250 yds.
(R)[N] 6 TDs 10 int. 107.0 rtg.
RB Emmitt Smith 40 294 att. 1,203 yds. 4.1 avg. 11 rec.
79 yds. 7.2 avg. 9 TDs
RB John Avery[N] 161 5 att. 21 yds. 4.3 avg. 4 rec.
24 yds. 6.0 avg. 0 TDs
FB Robert Thomas 269 15 att. 51 yds. 3.4 avg. 23 rec.
117 yds. 5.1 avg. 2 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Joey Galloway 81 4 rec. 62 yds. 1 TD
WR Raghib Ismail 127 25 rec. 350 yds. 1 TD
WR Wane McGarity 224 25 rec. 250 yds. 0 TDs
TE Jackie Harris 146 39 rec. 306 yds. 5 TDs
K Tim Seder 240 27/27 XPs 25/33 FGs 108 pts.
PR Wane McGarity 224 30 ret. 11.8 avg. 2 TDs
KR John Avery[N] 161 9 ret. 21.3 avg. 0 TDs
LT Flozell Adams 6'7" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Larry Allen 6'3" 326 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Mark Stepnoski 6'2" 265 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RG Kelvin Garmon 6'2" 329 lbs. 0 games 0 starts
RT Solomon Page 6'4" 321 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Greg Ellis 52 tackles 3 sacks
LT Brandon Noble 42 tackles 1 sack
RT Michael Myers 34 tackles 0 sacks
RE Ebenezer Ekuban 28 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Darren Hambrick 79 tackles 1 sack
MLB Dat Nguyen 48 tackles 2 int.
OLB Dexter Coakley 90 tackles 0 sacks
CB Izell Reese 61 tackles 2 int.
SS Darren Woodson 76 tackles 2 int.
FS George Teague 43 tackles 0 int.
CB Mario Edwards 9 tackles 0 int.
P Micah Knorr 58 punts 42.8 avg.
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"How big a reach was Carter? Most teams didn't have him on their
first-day draft board."