Parcells & Jones Doing Just Fine

The first draft of the Jerry Jones-Bill Parcells era had the makings of an explosive affair. There was the potential of head-butting between two strong willed leaders. Given the history of both for draft-day trading, wheeling and dealing while on the clock was expected to a treat.

Neither scenario came to fruition.

Instead, harmony reigned in the Cowboys draft room. And Jones and Parcells simply stood pat and made solid picks in what was a wildly successful 2003 draft.

More important, the impact should be immediate, starting with Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman with the fifth overall pick.

Following Newman, a cornerback-kick returner in the game-breaking mold of former Cowboys star Deion Sanders, the Cowboys took Wisconsin center Al Johnson in the second round, Tennessee tight end Jason Witten in the third round and LSU linebacker Bradie James in the fourth round.

All of the top four picks fill needs and should contribute mightily in 2003.

Newman and Johnson are likely opening-day starters. Witten's soft hands and run-blocking ability should earn him playing time as rookie. Parcells didn't like the size of the Cowboys linebackers. Well, he will likes James' size (6-2, 242) and production.

Jones, who changed his organizational philosophy following a third straight 5-11 season in 2002 by hiring the strong-willed Parcells, called the choice of Newman a "safe" pick and a joint decision.

"As I said from the beginning, it was going to be a 'we' decision," Jones said. "Bill was very much for our pick. We are all on the same page. We certainly feel like we got a player that gives us pretty good confidence that he is going to be a significant contributor. He is a safe pick. He's got the skill and potential to impact our team immediately."

Parcells was pleased with Newman and the working relationship with Jones.

"We worked in concert here," Parcells said. "I was just part of the process and gave my opinion like everybody. I had substantial weight. But it wasn't the entire reason anybody was picked."

For Newman, who went to high school in Salina, Kan., but spent parts of his childhood in Texas, being chosen by the Cowboys is a homecoming of sorts. His mother, Wanda Newman-Morgan, lives in Mount Pleasant, just east of the Metroplex.

"I feel great about it," Newman said. "When I was a kid, my mom, she was an avid Dallas Cowboys fan. Whenever we watched a game, that's who was on the tube. It's basically like going home. I was watching when I was a little tyke, and now I'm playing for them, so it's a dream come true."

Jones expects Newman, who could replace Mario Edwards in the starting lineup, to come in and make big plays as a rookie just as Williams did last year.

Williams tied for the team lead in interceptions with five and finished second in tackles in 2002.

"He should make that kind of impact," Jones said. "He improves our pass rush. He is a player you can't scheme against. That makes a big impact. If you are a legitimate corner that can take the receiver away, that's hard to scheme against. We have enjoyed the benefits with Deion Sanders of having a corner that can take away one side of the field. He is a special player."

The Cowboys came into the draft hoping to duplicate the success of last year's draft. Five rookies started in 2002, and Williams was one of three, including Ross and receiver Antonio Bryant, to make the NFL all-rookie team.

While the Cowboys' first day lacked flash, it was huge on value and seems on track for similar impact. Newman was not only ranked as the best cornerback in the draft by some experts but was widely considered among the top five players overall. Johnson was ranked as the second-best center in the draft and Witten, who was projected to go in the second round, was ranked as the second-best tight end.

Johnson will seemingly solidify an offensive line that, thanks to a plethora of injuries, was the team's worst position in 2002. His presence likely means that Andre Gurode will stay at right guard and that Tyson Walter, who finished last season as the starting center, will be a valuable backup at center and tackle.

Witten gives a Cowboys team that signed free-agent tight end Dan Campbell last month more options at a position that Parcells deems critical to offensive success.

"Tight end has always been an integral part of the offensive style we tried to run," Parcells said. "With Witten, we got a big, fast guy who has shown the ability to catch and hopefully can block adequately to give us some versatility at the position."

James could play next season in a reserve role, though he definitely will be asked to contribute on special teams. The final three picks are all future projects, namely Wisconsin cornerback B.J. Tucker (sixth round), Hampton receiver Zuriel Smith (sixth round) and Colorado guard Justin Bates (seventh round).

Like James, Tucker and Smith fit Parcells' philosophy of finding players later in the draft who have the potential to start in the future but can contribute on specials team immediately.

Both Tucker and Smith were picked with special teams in mind. Both are fast and have return abilities but their size and positions mean they can contribute on kick block and kick coverage as well.

Overall, it was potentially a great first draft for the Parcells-Jones regime. The top four picks were solid as they come.

The Parcells influence was evident. They addressed defense with three picks. He addressed the size at linebacker with James. He addressed special teams and the need to improve overall team speed, considering that Newman and Tucker were all-conference track standouts and Smith also ran track in college. The offensive line was also addressed, which is another focus point for Parcells.

The building process is not over but Parcells laid the foundation down in a big way in the 2003 draft.

A closer look at the Cowboys' picks:

Round 1/5 -- Terence Newman, CB, 5-10, 189, Kansas State

The Cowboys have been looking for a shutdown corner since Deion Sanders departed in 1999. Newman is the total package. He has no holes in his game as a cover corner. He has catch-up speed, good athleticism to overcome his height and he can take the ball away and take it to the house. Like Sanders, he will also be a weapon on kickoff and punt returns. A shoulder injury will not be a problem for Newman. His presence will allow the Cowboys to be more aggressive on defense and improve their pass rush.

Round 2/38 -- Al Johnson, C, 6-3, 305, Wisconsin

Bill Parcells needed a center to solidify a rebuilt offensive line that was decimated by injury last year. Johnson fits the bill. He is a tough and smart player who should be an immediate starter. It allows Andre Gurode to stay at guard and gives the entire line added versatility. Four players on the roster have played games at center as well as other positions, including Johnson (guard), Gurode (guard), Tyson Walter (tackle) and Matt Lehr (guard).

Round 3/69 -- Jason Witten, TE, 6-5, 264, Tennessee

A former college defensive end, Witten set single-season records as a senior for receptions and yards for tight end. So he has great hands and his speed makes him a vertical threat. His experience on the defensive side of the ball says a lot about his toughness and ability to develop into a good run blocker. Will certainly be a member of the tight end rotation next season with Dan Campbell, Tony McGee and could be the starter as soon as 2004.

Round 4/103 -- Bradie James, LB, 6-2, 242, Louisiana State

The Cowboys no doubt came into the draft looking to improve their lot at linebacker. They tried to trade up at the end of the first round to get Georgia's Boss Bailey. They then tried to trade up at the end of the third round to get James. The Cowboys were fortunate that James was there for them in the fourth round. He will contribute on special teams immediately and should serve as solid backup at both outside linebacker positions next season with the idea of him replacing Dexter Coakley as the starter at weakside linebacker in 2004. James is a hard worker in the weight room with an impressive size/speed package.

Round 6/178-- B.J. Tucker, CB, 5-10, 188, Wisconsin

This pick was certainly made with special teams in mind. Tucker is a track man who finished second in the 100 meters at the 2002 Big Ten track meet. He seems ideal to run on kickoff and punt coverage and could even be used as a returner. That he had only one season of starting experience in college says that he still needs some polish as a corner and is more of a future project.

Round 6/186 -- Zuriel Smith, WR, 6-2, 180, Hampton

Another special teams option for the Cowboys. Smith returned three punts for touchdowns in one game last season. Has good downfield speed and breakaway ability. Still raw as a receiver and will be hard-pressed to break into the receiver rotation next season. Must make a huge contribution on special teams as a returner and coverage man to avoid ticket to the practice squad.

Round 7/219 -- Justin Bates, OG, 6-3, 300, Colorado

Has a good college resume as an all-Big 12 performer. Is smart and versatile. Can play guard or tackle. Generally gets the job done. His negatives include a lack of great size and play strength. It seems he does not always play and practice like football is that important to him. Rarely finishes his blocks. Gets beat by speed off the edge in pass protection. Gives the Cowboys another option on the offensive line but is more likely a practice squad candidate.

CowboysHQ Top Stories