A solidified offensive line will allow quarterback Drew Bledsoe to take full
advantage of Terrell Owens's arrival and throw downfield more often. The
volatile T.O. will keep his cool under coach Bill Parcells and provide big
plays for an offense that lacked explosiveness last season.
No one said it wasn't going to be interesting. After arriving at camp, Owens
missed a string of practices with a hamstring injury, at one point riding a
stationary bike in an outlandish Discovery Channel cycling outfit, and last
week he was fined for missing a meeting and a rehab session for his injury. The
hamstring kept him out of Dallas's first three preseason games, making it
difficult to tell how he'll fit in once the real games begin.
But other signs
were more promising. Coming off a bitter dispute with his quarterback in
Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb, Owens was cooperating with Bledsoe. Shortly after
T.O. signed in March, the Dallas quarterback sat down with his new wideout to
explain how he expected their relationship to work. "I simply told him that
if he gives me good information, I'll get him the ball," says Bledsoe.
But it's how well
the line performs that's the real key to the season. Last year that unit fell
apart following injuries to left tackle Flozell Adams (torn right ACL, Week 6)
and guard Marco Rivera (strained neck, Week 15), and the entire offense went
into a funk that it never escaped. By season's end the Cowboys had allowed 50
sacks and were averaging an anemic 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. When camp
opened the status of Adams's recovery left Parcells "a little worried,"
and the 6'7", 335-pound nine-year veteran was placed on the physically
unable 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 repaired
for the quarterback's safety and the passing game as a whole. Should Adams
struggle, the Cowboys might have to use tight ends and running backs in pass
protection as they did last season. That means Dallas has to rely more on
three-receiver sets that rob Bledsoe of his check-down options--a running back
in the flat, for instance--and make the offense more predictable. "We had
to play some younger guys when Flozell went down, and that meant I had to stay
in and block more," says Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, whose receptions
dropped from 87 in 2004 to 66 last year. "We had to do what was necessary
to protect the quarterback." (And might that eventually be fourth-year man
Tony Romo? More mobile than the 34-year-old Bledsoe, he got significant
preseason playing time.)
The 11-year veteran
Rivera 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," center
Andre 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 in
camp this year and should be ready to anchor the line. The new starters up
front are quick, powerful fifth-year left guard Kyle Kosier and right tackle
Marc Colombo, who looks to have beaten out free agent Jason Fabini and 2005
starter Rob Petitti for the job.
"We can have
T.O., Witten and all these other weapons," says Bledsoe, "but it really
comes 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