5 Questions for Mini-camp

As the Cowboys inch closer towards their second mini-camp of the offseason, we take a look at 5 questions surrounding the team that must be answered in the coming weeks.

#1. Can Drew Henson compete?
When the Cowboys acquired former Michigan quarterback and New York Yankees third baseman Drew Henson earlier this offseason, the thought was that he would challenge for the starting job at some point in the future.

Two months later, as the Cowboys get ready for their second mini-camp, the thought is that Henson could be ready to go sooner than expected.

Does that mean he'll start for the Cowboys in the season opener? No, but it does mean that the heat will be on Quincy Carter for the umpteenth time when the Cowboys start training camp in Oxnard, California in late July.

After all, Drew Henson is bigger than Quincy. He's stronger than Quincy, and he's got a stronger arm than Quincy.

And on June 11th, when the Cowboys head back to the practice fields for their second mini-camp, Henson will be under the spotlight of the media, the coaches, and the fans, to see if he can come in and contribute sometime during the 2004 season.

How well he performs in June will go a long ways in determining whether his acquisition was a move that will pay dividends sooner rather than later.

#2. Was trading down for Julius Jones worth it?
In the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, we reported of rumors that Julius Jones was looked upon more favorably than Kevin Jones and Steven Jackson. When the Cowboys passed on the opportunity to draft both Jones and Jackson, and then traded down to select Notre Dame running back Julius Jones, those rumors were confirmed.

Jones is a speedster that has much to prove, but the Cowboys obviously have put their faith in his talents. Last year's starter, Troy Hambrick, is no longer with the team and unless another veteran running back is picked up, Jones is the man headed into the 2004 regular season.

Aveion Cason, Erik Bickerstaff and ReShard Lee are the only other backs currently on the roster, but none of those ground gainers are considered to be "every down" type of players.

Keep in mind that Julius Jones also made a significant impression during the rookie mini-camp two weeks ago. He made numerous catches, including a few one-handed grabs. He also showed an extra gear, repeatedly bursting through the linebackers and defensive backs.

#3. Can Larry Allen turn it around?
Two weeks ago, embattled guard Larry Allen was trying to work out a deal that would send him to either the Oakland Raiders or the Detroit Lions.

Today, Allen is back participating in the offseason conditioning program and appears to be on course to finish his career as a Dallas Cowboy.

So what's the difference between now and then?

Good question, and the answer is a meeting took place between Allen and Parcells last week. Parcells and Allen "came to terms," so to speak, and the eight time pro-bowler is ready to see what he can do for the Cowboys in 2004.

Allen started all 16 games a year ago, but he had several public arguments with his head coach, and seemed to get complacent both on and off the field.

This June, his work ethic, and more importantly his attitude towards Parcells and the rest of the organization will be of prime importance- especially with a rookie running back in the backfield.

#4. Who will step up at cornerback?
The Cowboys were never truly satisfied with the play of Mario Edwards, and it really wasn't a surprise to learn that he signed with Tampa Bay back in March.

While losing Edwards wasn't viewed as a loss by the organization, finding his replacement has become a huge priority in Valley Ranch.

Three corners were taken in the draft in Bruce Thornton, Jacques Reeves, and Nate Jones, and all three are expected to compete for a spot on the roster right up through the final stages of training camp in August.

Thornton undoubtedly leads the way, and he'll likely be the player that emerges to challenge veteran Pete Hunter for the starting spot. Also, insiders say to keep an eye on Nate Jones.

"I think we'll start there with Pete Hunter, and maybe put this Thornton there," said Parcells during an interview with reporters after mini-camp.

#5. Is there a quality punter on the roster?
With an offense that struggles to consistently put points on the board, and a stingy defense that has problems creating turnovers and big plays, having a strong punter is of the utmost importance.

That's just one of the reasons why veteran Toby Gowin was released earlier this year. Gowin suffered through an awful 2003 season that saw him average a career low 39 yards per punt.

So that begs the question, is there a punter currently on the roster than can get the job done? The short answer is- yes.

Two punters in particular impressed during the rookie mini-camp of two weeks ago in Mat McBriar and Josh Boies. In fact, Boies actually hit his special teams coach Steve Hoffman with a 50-yard bomb at one point during the last practice that Sunday afternoon.

* Staff writer Steve Lansdale also made contributions to this report.

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