A solidified offensive line will allow quarterback Drew Bledsoe to take fulladvantage of Terrell Owens's arrival and throw downfield more often. Thevolatile T.O. will keep his cool under coach Bill Parcells and provide bigplays for an offense that lacked explosiveness last season.
No one said it wasn't going to be interesting. After arriving at camp, Owensmissed a string of practices with a hamstring injury, at one point riding astationary bike in an outlandish Discovery Channel cycling outfit, and lastweek he was fined for missing a meeting and a rehab session for his injury. Thehamstring kept him out of Dallas's first three preseason games, making itdifficult to tell how he'll fit in once the real games begin.
But other signswere more promising. Coming off a bitter dispute with his quarterback inPhiladelphia, Donovan McNabb, Owens was cooperating with Bledsoe. Shortly afterT.O. signed in March, the Dallas quarterback sat down with his new wideout toexplain how he expected their relationship to work. "I simply told him thatif he gives me good information, I'll get him the ball," says Bledsoe.
But it's how wellthe line performs that's the real key to the season. Last year that unit fellapart following injuries to left tackle Flozell Adams (torn right ACL, Week 6)and guard Marco Rivera (strained neck, Week 15), and the entire offense wentinto a funk that it never escaped. By season's end the Cowboys had allowed 50sacks and were averaging an anemic 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. When campopened the status of Adams's recovery left Parcells "a little worried,"and the 6'7", 335-pound nine-year veteran was placed on the physicallyunable to perform list for the first four days of practice. As camp progressed,however, Adams began to move more fluidly and had less swelling in the repairedknee.
That's reassuringfor the quarterback's safety and the passing game as a whole. Should Adamsstruggle, the Cowboys might have to use tight ends and running backs in passprotection as they did last season. That means Dallas has to rely more onthree-receiver sets that rob Bledsoe of his check-down options--a running backin the flat, for instance--and make the offense more predictable. "We hadto play some younger guys when Flozell went down, and that meant I had to stayin and block more," says Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, whose receptionsdropped from 87 in 2004 to 66 last year. "We had to do what was necessaryto protect the quarterback." (And might that eventually be fourth-year manTony Romo? More mobile than the 34-year-old Bledsoe, he got significantpreseason playing time.)
The 11-year veteranRivera is needed not only for his play on the line but also for his leadership."Marco brings a calmness to the group when he's out there," centerAndre Gurode says. Rivera had surgery to repair a herniated disc in March 2005,but his back still bothered him throughout last season. He's looked solid incamp this year and should be ready to anchor the line. The new starters upfront are quick, powerful fifth-year left guard Kyle Kosier and right tackleMarc Colombo, who looks to have beaten out free agent Jason Fabini and 2005starter Rob Petitti for the job.
"We can haveT.O., Witten and all these other weapons," says Bledsoe, "but it reallycomes down to the line. We have to have things go right up front."
10 at Jacksonville
1 at Tennessee
8 at Philadelphia
23 N.Y. GIANTS (M)
29 at Carolina
5 at Washington
12 at Arizona
23 TAMPA BAY (T)
3 at N.Y. Giants
10 NEW ORLEANS
16 at Atlanta (S)
25 PHILADELPHIA (M)
(M) Monday (T)Thursday (S) Saturday
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage
Games against playoff teams
AN OPPOSING TEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE COWBOYS
> As talentedas tight end Jason Witten is, and considering how many big plays he makes, hestill doesn't get the recognition he deserves from around the league.
> AcquiringTerrell Owens was the right move, but they should not have gotten rid of LarryAllen at left guard. He can still play.
> For theCowboys to succeed, the offensive line's got to be good--better than it waslast season, when Dallas gave up 50 sacks.
> The worstthing that could happen to this team would be for quarterback Drew Bledsoe toget hurt.
> The biggestchallenge for the Cowboys is to get the team chemistry right. And of course,there's always the potential for a blowup between Parcells and T.O.
Roy Williams hasthe hype and has made big plays on Monday Night Football, but he struggles inpass coverage.
Though he had onlythree interceptions last season, Newman played so well overall in the Cowboyssecondary that he should have gone to the Pro Bowl. At least that's the view ofcoach Bill Parcells, who notes that Newman did not allow a touchdown pass in2005. This season the four-year veteran is making a major push to get toHawaii. He spent more time working out at the team's facility in the off-seasonthan any other Cowboy, and to many within the organization he's become theleader of the young defense.
WITH 2005 STATISTICS
BILL PARCELLS (163-123-1 in NFL), fourth season with Dallas
ANTHONY FASANO(R)--NEW ACQUISITION
SACKS 1 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
(R) Rookie(college statistics)
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
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ROB HOLT/SPORTPICS (ADAMS)
For the T.O. experiment to succeed, blockers such as Adams (left) must givetheir QB time.
HELMET PHOTOS BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ