Cowboys fullback Richie Anderson had his recruiting pitch all set when he spoke to quarterback Vinny Testaverde in late May. Anderson knew the Jets were planning to release Testaverde, so he called his old friend and former New York teammate and told him all that Dallas had to offer. Anderson talked about how comfortable the lifestyle is there compared with New York City. He boasted about the improved talent on the roster and added that the locker room was brimming with excitement for the upcoming season. The only thing Anderson didn't mention was the coach. He knew that he didn't have to sell Testaverde on Bill Parcells.
Testaverde enjoyed the best season of his 18-year career while playing for Parcells in New York in 1998, and it was that experience that led him to sign with the Cowboys in June. "I'm grateful for this opportunity because I wish I could've played my entire career under [Parcells]," Testaverde says. "He allows you to do your job and not worry about other things. He takes care of the distractions and makes players responsible. I like that because, as the quarterback, all I have to do is run the team and do my job."
Now the 40-year-old Testaverde, who spent the last two seasons as Chad Pennington's backup, must prove he can handle the starting job again, show that he still has some magic in his arm. When Dallas waived former starter Quincy Carter on Aug. 4, Testaverde was left in charge of a team with high expectations following a turnaround season in 2003. After three straight years finishing 5-11, the Cowboys went 10-6 in Parcells's first season and won a wild-card playoff spot. But Carter, who threw 21 interceptions, was an inconsistent performer, and Testaverde has traits that Parcells wants in his quarterback: a good work ethic in and out of season, plus toughness, passing accuracy and efficient game management.
Testaverde can bring those qualities and more to a huddle, but there are also question marks. Last season he played well--62.1 completion percentage, seven touchdowns, only two interceptions--in seven starts after Pennington broke his wrist, but from 2000 through '02 he threw 42 interceptions against 39 touchdowns. He also lacks mobility in a division, the NFC East, in which the defensive coordinators of the three other teams--the Eagles' Jim Johnson, the Giants' Tim Lewis and the Redskins' Gregg Williams--love to blitz. Dallas tight end Dan Campbell says, "Vinny's presence puts a greater strain on the offensive line, the tight ends and the backs to keep people off him, but if we can do that, he can be dangerous."
Another challenge is for Testaverde and his new teammates to quickly become familiar with one another's abilities and tendencies. In fact, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says one reason the decision was made to waive Carter so early in camp was to guarantee that Testaverde got more snaps with the first team. "Some guys are familiar with Vinny, but most of our team doesn't know what he's about," Jones says. "The whole point of training camp is to establish that familiarity as soon as possible."
Testaverde will be counting on two other veterans new to Dallas: wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Buccaneers for wideout Joey Galloway, and running back Eddie George, who was signed as a free agent after the Titans cut him in a salary-cap move on July 21. Johnson was Testaverde's favorite target when they played together on the Jets in 1998 and '99 and figures to be one of his top receivers again. George rushed for more than 1,000 yards in eight of his nine seasons with Tennessee, including 1,031 last year, and will serve as a role model for second-round pick Julius Jones.
Though new to the Cowboys, players like Testaverde and Johnson are at least old hands in Parcells's system. Shortly after training camp began, Testaverde glanced around the locker room and noted the familiar faces from the Jets team that reached the 1998 AFC Championship Game: Johnson sat in one corner, Anderson stood across the room, and Dedric Ward, competing for the fourth wide receiver spot, was walking nearby. "Seeing all those guys in the same place made me feel comfortable," Testaverde said. "I know these guys. I know how they play. We did some good things in the past, so now we'll see if we can do that again here." --J.C.
PLAYER ON THE RISE
> Second-year tight end JASON WITTEN caught 35 passes last season, and Dallas coaches have been working to come up with more ways to get him the ball, such as isolating him against safeties on deep-seam routes. The 6'5", 257-pound Witten has soft hands and excellent speed, and will often work in tandem with tight end Dan Campbell, who's primarily a run blocker.
ENEMY LINES An opposing scout's view
Offensively, their strength is the line. Flozell Adams has the potential to be one of the best left tackles in the business, and Larry Allen's still an imposing run blocker.... The Cowboys had average skill players last year, but they've added talent. Rookie back Julius Jones is explosive and probably their only big-play threat.... I think Parcells wants to outbig people--play smashmouth football--because he doesn't have great receivers. Keyshawn Johnson is a good possession guy, but Terry Glenn isn't a consistent threat.... I can't believe they cut Quincy Carter for Vinny Testaverde. I've heard Drew Henson was lighting it up.... La'Roi Glover is as quick as they come at defensive tackle, but there isn't much else on the defensive line. Greg Ellis is a solid end, but they haven't had a dominant pass rusher in a long time.... Two of their linebackers, Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen, have good instincts and make a lot of plays.... The secondary is questionable. Terence Newman is a shutdown guy, but Pete Hunter shouldn't be a starter in this league.... This team will have a hard time going 10--6 again.
"Rookie running back Julius Jones is explosive and probably their only big-play threat."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003 statistics
2003 RECORD: 10-6
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
COACH: Bill Parcells; second season with Dallas (148-106-1 in NFL)
(R) Rookie (stats for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 172)
*2002 college stats
12 at Minnesota
27 at Washington (M)
3 Open date
10 N.Y. GIANTS
24 at Green Bay
7 at Cincinnati
15 PHILADELPHIA (M)
21 at Baltimore
25 CHICAGO (T)
6 at Seattle (M)
12 NEW ORLEANS
19 at Philadelphia
2 at N.Y. Giants
NFL rank: 32
Opponents' 2003 winning percentage: .469
Games against playoff teams: 7
RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES
JUST VINNY, BABY!
Testaverde may be on his last legs--and arm--but Parcells prefers players who know his system.
COURTESY OF NFL