Parcells Needs Much More Out of Ekuban

When coach Bill Parcells started analyzing the Cowboys roster in search of ways to improve the team, he had no idea defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban was picked in the first round of the 1999 draft. What did catch Parcells attention was Ekuban's poor production.

He has 10 career sacks in four years. And although he didn't exactly go sackless in 2002, having one more sack than Parcells, who spent the year in the broadcast booth before taking over for the deposed Dave Campo in January, didn't rate as easy reading for the new coach.

However, Parcells isn't ready to close the book on Ekuban either. With improving the team's pass rush among the keys to the Cowboys hopes for better play on defense in 2003, it's a necessity that Ekuban finally play like a No. 1 pick. And Parcells is taking a personal interest seeing that it gets done.

"I think he has the potential to do more," Parcells said. "I have talked to him about that. Once we settle down here a little bit and kind of get the squad in shape, I'm going to try and do a little individual stuff with him myself. It's a few things I know. Let him get working on them at a little slower pace and see if I can help him out with a couple of things."

Ekuban, who has admittedly felt pressured to live up to his lofty draft status, knows his struggles have had more to do with poor play. He missed five games in 2000 because of a toe injury before suffering back injury that forced him to miss all but one game in 2001. Last season's disappointing performance came after spending the off season rehabilitating from back surgery. Although being able to spend this year working strictly on football had him already anticipating an improved performance in 2003, Ekuban welcomes the additional help from Parcells.

"His words are gold to me," Ekuban said. "He has been in this business a long time. He has coached a lot of great players. So whenever he speaks to a player, you have to take that to heart. He knows what talent looks like and what your ability should be. It's encouraging as a player when you have a head coach who is interested in bringing you along."

Parcells likes Ekuban's speed and acceleration off the corner. However, he sees him as a one-dimensional pass rusher and believes he needs to add someone versatility to his game.

"This is mentally tedious for him as well," Parcells said. "He is not physically a big guy. He is against these big tackles. You have to figure out a way to compete against the guy you are playing against regardless of the difference in ability. He has the acceleration and speed to be successful if he can mix up the technique just enough to create a little indecision and give the tackle some else to think about."

Said Ekuban: "He has told me I need to focus on counter moves and stop relying so much on my speed and always trying to beat the tackle around the corner. He wants me to have one or two moves I can fall back on and give the tackle something to guess about."

While the plan sounds good, the frustrating part for Ekuban is that he has always worked to improve his game but has still been unable to put everything together. Consider last season: it was his first injury-free year in the NFL and he recorded career highs in tackles (43) and quarterback pressures (20) only to be brought down by his inability to get the quarterback on the ground. It was not just Ekuban's problem, as the team's sack total of 24 ranked 30th in the league. However, Ekuban, who is in the final year of his contract, also knows he needs to be part of the answer in the team's quest for improvement in 2003.

"I put that on my shoulders," Ekuban said. "I am a defensive end. That's what I get paid to do. I hold that on my shoulders. It doesn't matter to me that this is my contract year. I am my own harshest critic. I hold myself to a high standard. Hopefully I can reach those stands and goals."

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