Keyshawn: "I Don't Care Who the Starting QB is"

The comparisons are unavoidable. A 6-foot-4 wide receiver with a thick, muscular frame. Runs precise routes, not afraid of contact, fights for the ball in the air. Loves to play, loves to talk. Demands the ball, draws the spotlight.

Sound familiar? For Cowboy fans, the above description reads like a résumé of former star wide receiver Michael Irvin (who is a little shorter than 6'4", but the comparison is there). It also describes the team's newest receiver, Keyshawn Johnson, acquired in the offseason for wideout Joey Galloway.

Irvin was more than the best receiver Dallas had since Drew Pearson. He also was the emotional leader of the team, the guy who fired up teammates on the field and entertained them off the field.

Johnson was made for the same role. He became a star at USC and jumped into the sports world's biggest spotlight as the No. 1 overall draft pick by the New York Jets. After being traded to Tampa Bay, he locked horns last year with Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden and was deactivated for the team's final games.

A year ago, some anointed the Dallas trio of Galloway, Terry Glenn and Antonio Bryant as perhaps the best threesome of wideouts in the NFL. But after a sizzling start, the passing game tailed off, and Johnson might just be the missing piece. Glenn and Galloway are speedsters whose biggest threat is their ability to separate from defenders downfield. Bryant is bigger than Glenn and Galloway, and was the closest the Cowboys had last year to a possession receiver.

Enter Johnson.

A receiver in a linebacker's body, Johnson will go over the middle and will make the tough catch in traffic. Like Irvin, he is fiercely competitive and is strong enough that he can push defenders away to create room to make the reception. "He's big, but he's also real strong," Dallas cornerback Terence Newman said. "You run with him, you know where the ball's going to be and he still goes and gets it."

Head coach Bill Parcells said this weekend that Johnson appeared "rusty" in the first weekend of mini-camp. But he doesn't worry about the effort or the end result he'll get from his new receiver.

"He knows what he needs to do to be ready," Parcells said. "I don't know what it is, and frankly I don't care what it is. Maybe it's the spotlight, maybe he likes being sort of a star. Whatever it is, there's a drive there that makes him work to get ready. He'll be ready."

Johnson's transition to the Cowboys will be anything but subtle. There's just no way for a player of his caliber -- and volume -- to join a team with the profile of the Cowboys and expect to simply slide into the rotation. When he hit the practice field over the weekend with his new teammates, the rest of the receivers hung on his every word like a bunch of star-struck teenagers. When standing in front of his locker, reporters swarmed. But despite the attention, Johnson insisted he's trying to blend in.

"I want to fall in line with the team," he said. "I don't think you can come to a team trying to become a leader -- that's something that just happens. When I went from New York to Tampa, I went to a defensive team where the leadership was already set."

The common assumption is that Johnson would lobby for newly-acquired Vinny Testaverde to assume the starting quarterback position with his new team, but while he clearly has a great deal of admiration for his former and new teammate, he is quick to steer clear of the quarterback debate.

"He (Testaverde) is in great physical condition -- he always is," Johnson said. "For a 40-year-old guy, or 41, or whatever he is … he's amazing. Look at (Oakland Raiders wide receiver) Jerry Rice -- he can probably still play another two or three years because of the way he prepares and takes care of himself. For a pure pocket passer, the best success (Testaverde) has had, he's had in the offense we're running here."

However, Johnson said that despite Testaverde's talent and knowledge of the offense, it would be premature to write off the team's incumbent starter, Quincy Carter.

"Nothing Quincy has said has indicated to me that he's nervous about the starting job," Johnson said. "I don't care who the starting quarterback is -- Quincy, Vinny, Tony Romo, Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson .... who's the sixth? (There isn't a sixth quarterback on the roster.) They can go sign … Mark Bulger. It doesn't matter to me who the starter is."

Who starts at quarterback is something that will be determined during training camp. But it's becoming increasing clear that even as he shakes off what Parcells called "rust," Johnson will be one of the team's most important offensive players, starting in the first game of the season.

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