ADAM JONES hasbecome famous for so many reasons—making it rain, flirting with pro wrestling,trying to rap, being interrogated by police, being interrogated by RogerGoodell—that it's hard to recall whether his football ability was ever one ofthem.
Jones is back onthe field after a yearlong suspension for his off-field misdeeds, findingrefuge in the most predictable place. Dallas has become the Boys Town of theNFL, owner Jerry Jones its Father Flanagan. Have a problem with yourquarterback, your firearm or the Las Vegas police department? Here, as Flanagansays in the movie, there is no such thing as a bad boy.
Two years ago theCowboys reformed wide receiver Terrell Owens, who had a history of alienatingquarterbacks. Last year they brought in nosetackle Tank Johnson, who liked tostore heavy artillery in his home. But those two are Silly Putty compared withAdam Jones, who has been arrested six times and had at least 10 encounters withpolice since Tennessee took him with the sixth pick in 2005. Even for BoysTown, Jones represents something of a challenge.
"What'snew?" Owens says. "With Jerry, you know the unexpected willhappen."
It's obvious whyDallas took a chance on Owens, perhaps the best receiver of his generation.Johnson, while not as celebrated, helped anchor the Bears' defensive line whenthey went to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. But Jones, who was expected tobe formally reinstated by Goodell sometime before the season opener, has notplayed since '06, when he had four interceptions and returned three punts fortouchdowns. He was an exciting young talent, but no Pro Bowl player. TheCowboys, after trading a fourth- and a sixth-round pick to the Titans for himin April, slotted Jones as their third cornerback.
Why assume suchrisk for a guy who fills out the nickel package? Despite what the depth chartsays, the club believes Jones has Deion Sanders--like athletic ability andplans to exploit it. Coach Wade Phillips says he might use Jones at receiver aswell as on defense and have him return kickoffs in addition to punts. Clearly,Jones will soon start at corner.
"He'sexceptionally quick, and he's got the great speed," Phillips says. "Buthe's also got a knack that some players don't have for seeing the football whenhe's playing man-to-man. A lot of players can only see their guy. He can seehis guy, but he sees the ball at the same time."
In training campveteran cornerbacks often position themselves to cover rookie receivers inone-on-one drills. But in Cowboys camp Jones went the other way, setting up toface Owens as much as possible. Whenever Jones broke up a pass, secondary coachDave Campo came running over barking, "Nice job, Pac!" (Jones says he'sfine with teammates and coaches using his well-known nickname; the media isanother story.)
Owens and Johnsonare fashioning themselves as mentors to Jones—which not long ago would havebeen an amusing notion. Their protégé will need more polish, as evidenced byJones's reflections on the Titans. "I don't mean to say anything bad aboutTennessee," he said early in camp. "But I don't ever want to go back toTennessee. It sucks."
Dallas had themost talented team in the NFL before Jones arrived, and now it is even more so.The secondary, a perceived weak spot when it ranked 13th in pass defense lastseason, includes Jones, Terence Newman, Ken Hamlin, Roy Williams, Anthony Henryand rookie Mike Jenkins—a frightening ensemble.
Of course theCowboys had an NFL record 13 players selected to the Pro Bowl last season, andall that group got was a loss to the Giants in the second round of the playoffsand a long flight to Hawaii. Dallas hasn't won a playoff game since 1996, butthis final season at Texas Stadium might be the one in which the Cowboys snapthat streak in style. As they plan a trip to Tampa, perhaps only their baggagewill slow them down.
PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH WADE PHILLIPS (61--42 in NFL),second season with Cowboys
SACKS 12 1/2
SACKS 3 1/2
2007 RECORD 13--3NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 17/4/3 DEFENSE 6/13/9
7 at Cleveland
15 PHILADELPHIA (M)
21 at Green Bay
12 at Arizona
19 at St. Louis
26 TAMPA BAY
2 at N.Y. Giants
16 at Washington
23 SAN FRANCISCO
27 SEATTLE (T)
7 at Pittsburgh
14 N.Y. GIANTS
20 BALTIMORE (Sa)
28 at Philadelphia
NFL Rank: 13
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .523
Games against playoff teams: 8
(M) Monday (T) Thursday (Sa) Saturday
NOW AT SI.COM
EXCERPTED FROM SI
January 5, 1976
NOW THE ball is coming to earth as the scoreboardflickers away the final seconds of the game. There are two men underneath theball and suddenly one of them slips and falls, and the one who is supposed tocatch it does exactly that. Roger Staubach has thrown a pass to Drew Pearson,and the Dallas Cowboys have used up a lifetime of good fortune in a singleplay.
Free access to all COWBOYS stories and photographs from the SI archives, plusvideo clips.
SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Cowboys' units.
Romo can make all the throws, and he will keep getting better.
Will be a top backfield if rookie Felix Jones gives them big plays.
Owens is one of the elite, but Crayton is more a No. 3 than a 2.
Witten rarely has a drop; tough, can block and will make plays.
Big and physical, deep at tackle; can be a dominating unit.
Very solid, with nice blend of youth and age, speed and power.
Thomas lifts the unit; critical year for Anthony Spencer.
Need more man-to-man players; teams can pass on Williams.
Kickers are very good; some concerns on coverage squads.
Dallas waived vet Terry Glenn in part to commit toyounger receivers like Stanback, a sprinter and quarterback at Washington whowas drafted in the fourth round in 2007. While Stanback admits he's still rawfor a pro wideout, the Cowboys need someone who can stretch the field. SaysStanback, "I'm not worried about that."
OVERQUALIFIED Given his cover skills, Jones likely won't be limited to the nickel for long.
HEINZ KLUETMEIER (COVER)