And So It Begins

The voice over the loud speakers could almost be heard yelling, "Gentlemen, start your engines." A common phrase that any NASCAR aficionado would know and understand. But the true beginning of the Parcells era wasn't hailed with blaring trumpets or any fanfare at all.

Saturday night the Dallas Cowboys had a controlled scrimmage with the Houston Texans. Houston being the expansion team who beat Dallas in last year's road opener on Monday Night Football. So it was not a scrimmage without some history for everyone not involved and in the stands or TV audience.

Parcells indicated to the press that this exercise was not to be construed as anything but practice. "This isn't the first official game, this is a practice. It's a controlled practice situation. It's totally unlike a game. It just looks like football to everybody, but it's not," Parcells uttered before the first series.

Houston opened with the ball and three-fifths of their starting offensive line in street clothes. And David Carr, the starting hurler for the Texans, had to wonder if his wife mailed the insurance payment this month.

Willie Blade was a disruptive force and had three plays in the Houston backfield. Ebenezer Ekuban also recorded three sacks from the defensive end position.

In all Dallas recorded eight sacks. They also held the Texans to 38 yards in the first four series of ten-plays while posting a whopping 279 yards on offense.

But this is a haggard and wounded Texans team in its second year as a franchise. With so many mistakes by the Houston line causing Carr, the second year quarterback, to run for his life, it's not surprising his frustration boiled over.

On a play that was intended to be a simple passing down, he was forced to run from pressure heading for the sidelines. He grounded the ball short of the line of scrimmage, taking a sack. But his anger was apparent as he slammed the ball into the turf. A sure sign the most sacked quarterback in the history of the league expects better play from his ramparts.

Quincy Carter was effective in the Cowboys first series, completing his first three passes of the scrimmage. On the evening, Hutchinson completed 6 of 9 passes for 71 yards, whjle Carter completed 5 of 7 for 48 yards.
The defense turned it up a notch, but this has to be put in perspective. They were not playing the Rams offense of Super Bowl fame. They were beating on a wounded and what appeared to be an ill-prepared team.

Dallas' offense was as effective as the defense when either of the possible starting quarterbacks were on the field. Quincy was showing off his leadership skills as he moved the team on a 72-yard, 10 play drive that culminated in a field goal by Ola Kimrin.

Hutchinson tossed two touchdown passes; both were near perfect throws in two separate series. Reggie Swinton caught one between two defenders on a laser beam of 26-yards. Dan Campbell caught another in heavy traffic in the endzone when Hutchinson threw the ball where Campbell alone was the only one that could make the catch.

But this night had no official winners or losers in the quarterback race. Both faired well and looked poised as they made their successes appear routine. If this is what can be expected, then the season ahead will be a lot smoother than anticipated. But it won't.

Reggie Swinton is an enigma. He shows flashes of talent, yet drops far too many passes. His catch in the endzone required him to turn back and receive the ball off his opposite shoulder. The play was designed to prevent the safety from having a shot at the ball. Hutchinson's throw was on the mark and Swinton made a terrific catch.

But the workaday catches seem to be the most difficult for him. And his dropsies in camp thus far may herald the swansong for his career with Dallas.

Randall Williams falls into the same category. He has been on fire in camp, but had a simple slant pass fall from his hands unmolested. He has made a tremendous leap from last year's raw and sometimes inept showing. Concentration is the key for him to be a better player. His days of relying on his special teams play to make the squad could come to an abrupt end if he cannot produce as a wide receiver in a real game.

However, Zuriel Smith made a tremendous leaping catch in the deep secondary of the Texans to show off his skills. Receiving the ball between the cornerback and safety, he was sure to get walloped, but kept his concentration and made a fantastic catch. The blow knocked his helmet off and he stood and spun the ball on the ground, showing off for the crowd.

Even though the play was called back because of a very liberal sack rule, Parcells is certain to see this as a catch. Too many more and other teams will be looking to see if he makes the practice squad. With speed and soft hands, he is perhaps a diamond in the rough. With or without trash.

Reshard Lee posted 68-yards on 10 carries, but one carry was a 42-yarder that set up Hutchinson's pass to Campbell. A solid showing for a kid that is on the bubble. But his yards-per-carry were padded by the one long run. He has flashes and that just may be enough to earn him a star.

Dallas rolled out a strong performance, but the lack of competition should calm any exuberance from its coaching staff. Several times Parcells was miffed about lack of attention by his minions and paced the sidelines like an angry caged cat. There will be some curt words for several of the players when the team meets again Monday afternoon after a day off.

The first true salvos have been fired in the Bill Parcells tenure. And while this appeared to be a dominant performance by the better team, what the facts should indicate is that a prepared team outshone a team with a dozen starters and top players on the sidelines.

The real race doesn't begin for another month. That's when Bill and company will find out if they have a racecar or a kiddy car when they match up against the Atlanta Falcons on September 7.

But for one night in a controlled scrimmage against an inferior opponent, the Dallas Cowboys had enough fuel to handle their business and took the checkered flag.

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